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Affording college tuition may be harder for families of divorce

Back when you and your spouse were expecting your first child, you may have shuddered at the projected cost of putting your little one through college. You probably couldn't have predicted that you would end up divorced years later, with tuition even higher than your original estimate. But that's the boat many Texas parents are finding themselves in these days. In addition to child support payments to worry about, divorced parents are struggling to afford putting their children through college.

U.S. News & World Report estimates the average annual tuition at a private, nonprofit university to be roughly $35,000. For a public four-year university or college, the cost is about $20,000 -- not including room and board and other fees. Many parents in Texas and across the country simply can't afford to foot the bill.

Affording college can be even more difficult for divorced parents of prospective students. According to a study out of Rice University in Houston and the University of Wisconsin, children of divorced parents tend to get less financial help with college. Married parents pay an average of 77 percent of their child's tuition by contributing about 8 percent of their incomes, according to the study. But children whose parents are divorced pay an average of just 42 percent, contributing about 6 percent of their incomes even if they've remarried.

What's an aspiring student with divorced parents to do? One young woman, an art major at an East Coast university, suspected her father would stop paying her tuition after her parents divorced in 2004. So she made him sign a contract promising that he would continue to pay until she was 25, provided she actively sought and applied for scholarships and financial aid. Her father stopped paying during her senior year, and she sued him. Her father counter-sued, arguing that she hadn't applied for any financial aid, but the judge sided with the daughter and awarded her $47,000 in addition to attorney fees.

Most parents, however, are willing but unable to cover the cost of their child's tuition. Whether you're divorced or still married, it pays to look into savings funds as early as possible. If you're in a dispute with your former spouse over tuition payments, it may be time to talk to a family law attorney about your options for covering your child's education.

Source: Click2Houston, "Cost Of College A Burden For Children Of Divorce," June 19, 2012

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