Here’s a quick one: There is no legal obligation to pay college tuition.
This simple statement often upsets one set of parents and makes another set happy. However, under the Child Support Standards Act, there is no requirement that a parent pay college tuition.
The only way to secure tuition is to place the obligation into the divorce agreement. Many times we use what is called the “SUNY CAP.” The SUNY cap is an obligation to pay tuition up to the level of a specified SUNY school. Being based on Long Island, I base it on SUNY Stony Brook, which is about$5,000 a year. Some agreements use the clause “the parents will contribute to college education.” This clause can lead to further disputes down the road. For example, what if the child is accepted to NYU, which is about $37,000 a year? Must Dad shell out $18,500 per year? Good drafting can save future trouble. If you cannot agree on a SUNY Cap, it is perhaps wise to have some other limiting factor.
The Judge does have the discretion to order tuition, but the parent seeking tuition will have to prove it. The party paying child support can get a dollar for dollar credit on money paid towards room and board.
In the absence of an agreement, even if the court does award tuition, it will end when the child turns 21, not when s/he finishes school. An agreement to pay past 21 is only enforceable by a court if the agreement is in the proper format. A handshake, an email or even a notarized letter is not enforceable.