Q My daughter is finishing high school this year. When we separated, our agreement established child support and required us to equally share pre-college expenses for things like tutoring for test prep, applications, etc.
My ex owes me $8,000 for her half of all of the pre-college expenses – she has not paid anything despite my repeated requests for reimbursement. Our daughter has been accepted at her first choice of schools which happens to be where my ex works and as part of her employment, our daughter gets free tuition, we just have to cover room, board, books and supplies.
Before I file a modification and ask the judge to allocate responsibility, can you help me understand how this benefit gets applied? Will I get some break on child support now that our daughter will be in college?
A Unless the judge makes a finding that you and your ex have the ability to pay more than the cost of UMass Amherst, half the cost of UMass will be the cap on each of your respective obligations to pay for college. With that in mind, depending on where your daughter is planning to go and the costs above tuition, you should crunch some numbers before making any proposal to your ex. First, you need to realize, your ex will be taxed on the value of your daughter’s tuition because it will become part of her compensation and considered taxable income to her.
She will not be able to claim because she has this tuition benefit, she somehow does not have to pay the $8,000 due you on the pre-college expenses.
Generally, when a child goes to college and parents are contributing to the cost, child support is reduced but the amount of the reduction is within the discretion of the judge. In calculating the new child support amount, you can argue her income should be grossed up to include the tuition benefit. Weighing the potential cost of litigation, you should send her a proposal for global resolution of all the issues before filing anything. Offer to pay your daughter’s non-tuition expenses including an allowance directly to your daughter with your ex covering the tuition in exchange for termination of child support. Then write it up as a modification agreement to present jointly for court approval.
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