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How higher education affects divorce settlements

Support of higher education goals is a consideration that New York couples in the process of divorcing may want to keep in mind. Even in an uncontested divorce, any child support terms set out in the divorce settlement could place significant obligations on both parties. Those obligations cannot later be released by a private contract or bankruptcy. A divorce settlement could also reflect one spouse's support of the other spouse during attainment of an advanced degree or professional license.

The issue of emancipation, or when the child support obligation ends, is fluid and largely depends on whether paying for college education is required by law. Parents may agree to a higher education support obligation in the divorce settlement. Absent any expense caps or other conditions in the settlement, one parent cannot come back later and impose restrictions on that obligation because of disapproval of the school choice or belief that the other spouse can afford to pay more.

Another fluid matter in divorce settlement cases involves the division of assets when one spouse has financially supported the other during procurement of a degree or license. Some court decisions and statutes have mechanisms in place to recognize that spouse's contribution. A variety of formulas exists in order to determine the value of an advanced education and any earnings that may result from it. Sometimes the spouse who contributed to the advanced education may just receive an increase in spousal support.

Higher education, be it that of an unemancipated child or a soon-to-be ex-spouse, is one of many questions that may have to be addressed in the process of creating a divorce settlement. Consulting with an attorney experienced in family law may help with anticipating any possibilities and how to tackle them.

Source: The Huffington Post, "Divorce Settlements and Higher Education", Brad Reid, March 13, 2014

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