It’s Almost Time for College….Now What?

Parents know that childhood goes by in the blink of an eye. If you are waking up today realizing that it is second semester of your child’s senior year of high school, you are probably wondering where the time went. You may also be realizing that it is time to figure out a few things about college since your child will likely start his or her post-secondary educational journey this calendar year. If you are divorced or were never married to your child’s other parent, this time can be especially stressful. Nothing makes co-parenting harder than a large financial problem. Like all families facing college, it is time to gather some information and look at all the options.

The first thing to do is to cooperate with your child and co-parent to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This form is required for all students who want to receive financial aid. Even if you think that financial aid is unlikely due to your income situation, complete the FAFSA application. It is available online at fafsa.ed.gov. The deadline for completing the FAFSA in Indiana is March 10, 2015 by midnight. That means you and your co-parent need to complete your tax returns as soon as possible so that your accurate income numbers and information are available.

Once you complete the FAFSA, you will soon after receive your Student Aid Report (SAR). This report details the financial aid for which your child qualifies. This is an important document that you will need as you tackle the next step, which is figuring out who pays what.

With your SAR in hand, sit down with a list of the costs of the college or university your child has selected or is considering. Make a clear and comprehensive list of all mandatory expenses such as tuition, room and board, mandatory fees and the like. If your child’s selected college has offered scholarships, be sure to acquire documentation of the specific amounts and terms of those scholarships.

Now it is time to pull out your divorce decree or paternity order to see if you and your co-parent made agreements regarding the division of post-secondary expenses. Sometimes parents have agreed to a certain percentage which is to be paid by the child. Generally the child uses financial aid awards to fulfill this percentage. Any other available financial aid is generally then applied to take the total amount payable down further.

Did you and your co-parent have a college savings account during marriage? If so, your decree may specify how it is to be used, which perhaps means that it is applied to further reduce the total college bill. The remaining balance after the application of all financial aid and college savings accounts from the marriage will generally be borne in some fashion by the parents. If a parent has maintained his or her own college savings account, he or she can use it as he or she see fit to pay costs allocated to that parent.

If you need help allocating the balance of post-secondary education bills between you and your co-parent, consult an attorney. This is best done sooner rather than later. You must request assistance from the court before your child reaches the age of 19. Mediation is also available to help sort out payment issues. With a little guidance, you and your co-parent can figure out your obligations peacefully.

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