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What Obligation Does the Non-Custodial Parent Have for Kids' College Costs?

The U.S. Department of Education cites some surprising statistics about the impact of divorce on children and funding their college educations. Specifically, 74 percent of children raised in nuclear families without incidents of divorce attend college, while only 54 percent of children from families where there has been a divorce attend college. Perhaps most striking of all is that only 6 percent of non-custodial parents assist with funding their children’s college educations.

Financial Strain

The primary reason cited for children of divorced parents not attending college in higher percentages is lack of funds. Nuclear families that do not experience divorce tend to have higher income levels with which to fund college. Even though divorce is a separation of a married couple and should not impact the relationships of parents to children, there is a decidedly smaller percentage of non-custodial parents who feel obligated morally to contribute to the costs of their children's advanced educations.

State Laws

Yet, the need for a college degree in today's global economy and competitive job market is stronger than ever and costs of a college education rise yearly. Divorced custodial parents have reacted by requesting help from the courts and legislatures to compel their former spouses to help contribute to college educations of their children. Many states have put into place laws to mandate that non-custodial parents contribute at least some portion of the college costs of their kids. The following states have enacted laws or established a body of jurisprudence that requires a non-custodial parent to fund at least a portion of their children's college educations:

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • District of Columbia
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • Oregon
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Utah
  • West Virginia
  • Washington


The courts in these states where laws have been enacted, or body of case law has developed, review a multitude of factors in making a decision as to the level of financial assistance a non-custodial parent must provide for a child's college education. Those factors include:

  • whether parents would have funded a college education of the child if there hadn't been a divorce
  • educational levels attained by both parents
  • expectations of parents for the child to attend college if they had not divorced
  • child's available finances
  • parents’ finances
  • child’s interests, goals, and achievements, particularly in an academic setting
  • child’s ability to earn an income during school
  • available financial aid for the child, relationship of the child and non-custodial parent
  • whether the divorced parents have entered into a voluntary agreement governing college support