Fox Family Lawyers
Cynthia Moseley Fox
Attorney at Law
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Suite 700
Clayton, Missouri 63105
(St. Louis)

Father Hopes Tuition Payments By New Wife’s Employer Fulfills His Obligation

A reader named “Mike” wrote:


Can child support payments to the custodial parent be used towards college expenses?


My ex-wife and I divorced in 1991. She has the primary custody of our only child. Our daughter goes to one of the state universities. My present wife works at a local university that provides “paid tuition” to any university in the USA.


My ex-wife is still very bitter over the divorce, very verbally aggressive and demanding. Since my present wife’s employer pays for the tuition, I thought my “ex” might consider paying the room and board—about $2,966 per semester. WRONG! I pay monthly child support of $266 to my “ex” through the court.


Can’t I use the monthly child support for the school expenses, especially since my daughter doesn’t live at home? My decree states that both parents will split the college costs.


Dear Mike: Without putting too fine a point on this, I don’t think you’ve got much of a case. In a nutshell, you want your ex-wife to pick up almost $6,000/year in room and board for your daughter’s education, while your current wife’s employer pays the tuition. Whoa there, partner, I thought you said that the court ordered YOU and your “ex” to split the costs. If so, which part of the college expense are you, personally, proposing to pay…the dry cleaning?


It’s very nice that your current wife provides the tuition benefit for the daughter born of your prior marriage. But, as you know, this is not her obligation but yours and your ex-wife’s. Given your good fortune of marrying someone with such a generous employer, you now have a great deal less expense to split with your ex-wife.


Separately, what you pay for child support cannot be considered as your contribution to the remaining college expenses, unless the court that presided over your divorce agrees. It is highly unlikely to do that. In virtually every case, the Family Court considers college-related expenses as a separate responsibility for the parents. I believe that was the court’s intention in your case when it set up the schedule of support payments, while also mandating that the parents split the cost of college.


I suspect you believe that through your wife’s employment benefit, you are advancing the tuition. Well, that’s really not the case. Her employer is picking up the tab at your current wife’s direction. So, if you are really rankled about this, your wife can ask her employer to stop doing that. But, what would that get you except a big fat tuition bill to split with your “ex” as well?


Rather than complaining about your former spouse, I’d take a more conciliatory approach. Even though she is entitled to, I presume your “ex” hasn’t yet hauled you back in front of the judge to force you to pay your half of the remaining expenses. Perhaps this indicates that she would be willing to negotiate something a bit more favorable to you.


One last thing, with your daughter now away at school, you could seek to have your support payment reduced. However, I’d be very cautious about taking your “ex” to court. Not only would it provide her the opportunity to make you pay your full share of the college expense, but you could see your support payments increased as well. The $266 you’re paying is pretty modest by today’s standards. I assume it was set in 1991 at the time of your divorce. Quite likely, both your income and the cost of raising your child have increased a great deal since then, setting up the likelihood of a payment increase.