College Costs and Co-Parenting

The (almost) Final Co-Parenting Frontier

At this very moment, many high school seniors (and their parents) are anxiously checking their e-mail and snail mail for final responses from college admissions offices.
For parents and students alike, this annual ritual brings a ripe blend of emotions: excitement, trepidation, joy, fear, laughter and tears. After all, this is a major milestone in a child’s life.

Big Changes + Big Costs = Big Conflict

For parents living in different homes, this time also usually marks a major milestone in their post-divorce journey. Typically, when a child reaches ‘adult’ age, child support requirements begin to wind down, remaining shared property may be triggered for sale, and distribution of retirement assets – once in a distant horizon, now come into view.
These are enormous changes. Now, add new, larger costs – like college tuition, room and board and miscellaneous college fees into the co-parenting mix (usually spelled out in a now dusty stipulation agreement, as ‘to be shared’ between parents). If not addressed, this can sow the seeds for a major conflict.
College costs can push previously ‘comfortably-in-denial’ financial co-parenting dynamics, into an uncomfortable crescendo. An expense of this magnitude are too big to sweep under the rug. Discussions must be had.

There’s Another Adult In the Room

Fear not. This is also a perfect time to introduce your newly minted college-bound ‘adult’ into the world of expenses, personal budgeting and financial responsibility.
At the same time, your child can act as an importantly active and neutral party for both parents in managing at least some part of her or his college expenses.

Here’s what to do:

  • We recommend you get a PayPal MasterCard cash card or a bank account/debit card for your student child asap. Help from a parent is needed if they are under 18 years old.
  • Parent(s) and student then highlight which school costs will be covered directly between the parents and which costs can be shared by the student among the two parents.
Here are some expense categories your child should be able to comfortably organize and share with both parents without incurring undue stress*:
  • Books / school supplies / subscriptions
  • School food plan / misc. food
  • Toiletries / Medicine
  • Trips home
  • Clothes / shoes
  • Transportation costs while at school
  • School trips / semesters abroad
  • Clubs / sororities / fraternities fees
  • Equipment (musical instruments, sports equipment, engineering / medical equipment, uniforms, etc.)
  • Technology (laptop, tablet, smartphone)
  • Utilities (mobile phone bill, cable bill, etc..)
  • On-off campus walk-in medical / dental procedures
*Depending on the student, it may be useful for them to be aware of and share the tuition and room & board bills, but it may not be helpful or healthy for them participate in the discussion of these larger charges.
  • Students and parents can then discuss which will costs will be shared two ways, or even three ways if your student earns an allowance or decides to work while at school, etc…
  • Don’t forget to top up your students’ debit card before they leave for school.
  • The final step: while at school, your student will share any of the selected incurred expenses to both parents at the same time. Once a month communication should suffice.
Unless your student is learning to become a CFO, the process of splitting expenses, sharing receipts, bills, etc.. should not be a complex process. It should be easy.
Use on-line tools that help with sharing expenses (especially, one that can do it three ways). After all, your kids are going to school primarily to concentrate on academics (and maybe, a little beer).

In Summary

Animosity can develop between parents when sharing expenses is historically as comfortable as getting oral surgery, then college costs come into the picture. There are benefits of having your adult student become an organizer of and participant in miscellaneous college cost sharing.
For the student, the experience can teach valuable lessons of financial responsibility for costs they are incurring.
For the parents, the child’s participation can strike a new financial partnership, where previously the two parents on their own, might fail.
There are some apps available that can help you and your family organize and split college costs up to 3 ways.  SmartCoparent does provide cost sharing capabilities for this. Click here if you’d like to learn how.

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