Co-parenting after divorce is a fine way to maintain strong family relationships, improve communication, and demonstrate parental support for your children. When your “baby” is ready to fly the nest and head off to college or trade school, you and your ex-spouse have to adapt to new challenges as co-parents.
If possible, both parents should make the rounds for college or trade school visits. This can be done by alternating responsibilities or by having both parents attend the visits.
You may find the visits coincide with your mutually planned parenting time schedule, or you may have to be flexible and rearrange that schedule.
Ideally, a college or trade school visit is a great opportunity for both parents to attend together, to present a unified support system for the child. Divorce expert Mary Walker recommends both parents attend so they can both ask the right questions and draw on their own experience with higher learning.
The rite of passage of completing college applications is the moment when parents realize they are now in the back seat and their child must drive. Deadlines, essay requirements, and paperwork all must be the responsibility of the child, not the two parents. Both parents can encourage but should not steer the child through the applications.
By communicating clearly with your ex-spouse, the two of you can agree on which home address the child should use on the applications. This makes timely responses from institutions (admitted, wait-listed, or not accepted) easier on everyone.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application asks for information about the custodial parent. Your divorce decree may reference Joint Managing Conservator and the parent who has the exclusive right to determine the residence of the child.
FAFSA's application is asking about physical custody — with which parent does the child live more than half the time? This gets especially tricky for truly dedicated co-parents.
If each parent houses the child exactly half the time, then the next test is financial: the parent providing greater financial support completes the FAFSA.
Under no circumstances should both parents complete the FAFSA; while it will not result in any major legal tangle, it will delay processing of your child's application.
Paying for college or trade school is an obligation parents put on themselves. No law compels parents (married, single, separated, divorced) to pay for their children's education. Many parents work hard, save through 529 programs, the Texas Tuition Promise Fund, and find other ways to assist with higher education. The Texas Comptroller's Office offers a reference page for interested parents.
You and your ex-spouse should privately discuss a unified strategy for dealing with higher education costs, based on each parent's ability to pay or borrow. Experts at Talking Parents recommend advance planning to take into account the full range of expenses:
- Rent, dormitory room fees, and other living expenses
- Textbooks, lab fees, supplies
- Laptops or other technology needs
- Food plans or groceries
- Healthcare or medical expenses
- Transportation at school and to and from the two homes
Especially for students attending college outside Texas, transportation costs can add up quickly. This also affects holiday parenting time, since a child may have to remain on campus during some holiday breaks to save money.
The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) puts limits on access to student records by either parent. Once your child turns 18, your child controls access to academic and financial records maintained by the educational institution.
This sets boundaries for both parents:
- You may not email professors or teachers regarding your child's progress
- You do not have access to your child's academic records, grades, or progress reports
- You cannot inquire about your child's attendance in classes, seminars, or labs
Only the parent who can claim the child as a dependent for tax purposes can formally request access to the records. Such a request must be in writing and must include evidence of the child's dependency status.
When co-parenting a college-age child, both parents need to work together, stay focused on the best interests of the child, and convey their unconditional support for their budding scholar.
The Page Law Firm is committed to answering your questions about Family Law issues in Collin County and surrounding areas. Please contact us today to schedule an appointment or telephone our Frisco offices at (214) 618-2101.