Private or public school
Private school, kindergarten through high school, can cost $25,000 through $65,000 a year. But the choice of private or public school has nonfinancial consequences because changing schools can cause even more disruption to families.
Public school also has expenses such as supplies, lunches, field trips, fundraisers, and extracurricular activities. These costs may be a hardship and should be considered in divorce negotiations.
Parents should determine whether a noncustodial parent will pay college costs, which may continue to rise. The average published tuition and fee cost at public four-year institutions was $10,230 in 2018-2019. The median price at private colleges was $36,890 while 20 percent of students went to schools that cost at least $51,000. These costs did not include housing, meals, books and supplies, transportation, and other expenses.
Parents must address if there is a limit on the noncustodial parent’s financial support. Also, they should decide whether a parent paying support can consent or veto the college selection for financial or other reasons.
Parents may use 529 plans or other accounts. These allow contributions for future college attendance. Although contributions to these plans are not tax deductible in California, there may be some potential federal tax benefits.
Parents may withdraw money out of existing plans for their own use. To address this, funds may be transferred to a new 529 account under one parent’s name where the child is the named beneficiary.
Restrictions on the use of the fund and required monthly reports may be part of the divorce settlement agreement. The parent who is not the account owner should verify that the owner did not withdraw 529 funds for non-educational purposes before entering an agreement, however.
Even with a 529 plan, students may be eligible for financial aid. Assistance under 529 plans is assessed at values that allow receipt of other aid.
Custodial parents should also complete and submit the free application for federal student aid form. Students will typically receive more aid if the custodial parent has lower income assets than the other parent.
Submitting FAFSA is a no-risk proposition. According to NerdWallet, over one-third of high school senior did not submit the application form which left approximately $2.6 billion in unused aid in 2018.
An attorney can help parents seek a fair and reasonable decree that meets their family’s needs. Lawyers can also assist with modifications if circumstances change.