Child support hits speed bump over college costs

Q. My wife and I are finalizing our divorce agreement in mediation and are stuck on child support.  My wife stayed home and raised our son from the time of his birth.  I encouraged her to return to work once he was in school – but she didn’t want to.  When Jack was 10, my wife received a sizeable inheritance and from that point on used that as an excuse not to return to work – we no longer needed the money.

Fast forward to now, she is keeping her inheritance and I am keeping both of our homes and my retirement worth almost as much as her inheritance.  Jack just started Emerson College.  We did not save money for college because my wife said she would use her inheritance.  She changed her position and instead of paying for college she wanted us to each contribute half the cost of UMass Amherst with Jack paying the rest.  I would prefer to just pay for all of Jack’s college education.

I had hoped paying for college would mean I don’t have to pay child support.  My wife wants full guidelines support in addition to my paying everything for college.  She says her income is zero because she doesn’t work so the weekly support is almost $600.  We are at an impasse.

A.  If I was your lawyer, I would be making an argument about deviating from the child support guidelines because you are paying 100% of the college expenses.  When support is calculated for college age children and the parents are paying for college, the judges have discretion to deviate from the child support guidelines and order something less than what the guidelines calculate.

I am not sure she is right that she has zero income.  Doesn’t her inheritance throw off dividends and interest?  It is not being divided as part of the divorce settlement so you can argue that her investment income should be used to calculate child support thereby reducing your obligation.

I suggest you try to negotiate once more by presenting her with a spreadsheet showing what the child support will be if her investment income is included.  Take that smaller amount and figure out which is more – the child support or half the cost of UMass Amherst in a given year.  If it is laid out properly, she should see for herself that taking less child support in lieu of college contributions is better for her bottom line.

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