Nineteen-year-old Sarah hated her freshman year at the University of Maryland!! She let her parents know she was miserable, miserable, and more miserable.
Sure her classes were okay, she really couldn’t complain about anything that might fall under the heading of academic. But the food….and the kids… and besides she’d made friends with some very cute boys and some “chill” girls at the tony private school not far away.
Sarah explained the situation to her father; she needed to transfer. Couldn’t she please, pretty please, “I’m begging, please,” go be with her friends at that private school for her Sophomore year?
Sarah lived in New York, so her tuition for the University of Maryland was not as inexpensive as if she’d been a state resident. However, it was still substantially lower than the tuition for the private college Sarah was now asking to attend.
Sarah’s parents were divorced when Sarah was ten years old. The divorce agreement simply stated that Sarah’s Father was required to pay One-hundred percent of Sarah’s college tuition. This was the only term relating to the payment of Sarah’s college tuition in the entire divorce agreement.
Sarah’s father wanted to make his only daughter happy. But he just couldn’t. The tuition at the private university was approximately $20,000 more per year. So he had to tell his darling daughter “No”.
Sarah let out all her frustrations on her father, blaming him for ruining her life because he wouldn’t let her transfer. Worse, Sarah’s mother, knowing she was not in anyway responsible for tuition, threatened legal action against the father to make him pay for the more expensive school.
Though the Father didn’t take the mother’s threat very seriously, he did resent how his ex was siding with his daughter and turning him into the ogre who said “No.”
In mediation, when we discuss college with divorcing parties, we bring up very specific scenarios that might arise.
We make certain to discuss:
*How much each parent should contribute to college, and if events change in parents’ lives, should their contributions change;
* Any limitations on the type of college that they are willing to pay for- i.e only a state school, or a private school is okay;
*Financial steps leading up to college- whether 529 plans should be established and how much each parent should contribute;
*Is it all right to have their child take out loans?
*The re-adjustment of child support for the noncustodial parent when the child commences college;
*What other college costs are the parents covering: room, board, books, and car?
*If the child is very young, should the parents agree in writing to revisit college issues when the child gets to be a certain age?
We find that with a very detailed separation agreement regarding college, one parent doesn’t have to be hit with the whole burden of paying for something he or she didn’t anticipate. Or worse, if they can’t pay, being cast as the Ogre who said “No!”