New York courts today generally take the view that children must be given every reasonable opportunity to succeed in life. That includes a college education.

When evaluating a parent’s post-divorce responsibility for their child’s education costs, the court reviews factors like the following:

  • The ability of the parent to pay
  • The educational background of the parent
  • The child’s academic ability and education background
  • The SUNY cap

The latter criterion refers to a State University of New York (SUNY) cap. When incorporated into a divorce agreement, it limits a parent’s college tuition contributions to the cost of attending a SUNY college or university.

SUNY caps

When addressing college costs in the divorce settlement, the parents need to indicate exactly which SUNY cap they are adhering to. There are several schools in the system, and some are much more expensive that others. Avoid generally-worded terms, which could end up costing a parent thousands and thousands of dollars for an Ivy League education. College tuition caps should also be based on the anticipated time that the children will be going to college, not on the time the agreement is drawn up.

Additional college expenses

Another thing to remember is that college costs are not limited to tuition alone. They can include:

  • Room and board
  • Books, lab fees and expenses
  • Pre-college expenses such as entrance exams, tuition, application fees, and travel

These additional expenses should be specified in the agreement, or a judge may either limit the financial obligation of the parent to tuition alone or impute a percentage of the expenses to them. Precise wording can save a lot of time and money later on.

Other forms of financing

If other forms of financing are used to cover a child’s college education, their impact must be specified in the divorce settlement. For example:

  • Unless agreed upon in advance, parents cannot use college savings accounts set up before the divorce to offset future education costs
  • If the child receives a grant or a scholarship, it must be decided whether the money will be applied to reducing tuition costs or offsetting the parent’s financial contributions
  • If a parent does not specify that the child must take out student loans to pay for costs that parental contributions can’t cover, they will be responsible for paying off those loans.

Many divorcing spouses fail to address future education expenses in a divorce settlement agreement, especially if the children won’t be attending college for a number of years. The result can be a future financial obligation the parents will struggle to afford. Therefore, it is recommended that an experienced New York family law attorney review any agreements prior to signing, so that the rights of both the parents and the children will be fully protected on all fronts. To set up a free, in-person consultation with Jayson Lutzky, a highly-experienced Bronx divorce attorney, call 718-514-6619. Visit to learn more about New York State’s child support rules.