Am I Legally Obligated to Pay for My Child’s College Tuition?

McLario, Helm, Bertling, & Spiegel, S.C.

In general, parents, divorced or otherwise are not required to play for a child’s college tuition. That being said, many parents do contribute something as their children move onto higher education. When the parents are divorced, coming to an agreement regarding how much each parent will fund can be particularly challenging.

Wisconsin law

In the State of Wisconsin, a child support obligations end after a child turns 18 and is or should have been graduated from high school. That being said, a parent does not have a legal obligation to cover the cost of a college education. If contributing to additional schooling is part of the divorce agreement, it is important to clarify in a legal document what is required of each parent. If this document is properly drafted by a qualified family law attorney, it can be enforceable should one parent  decide not to fulfill their side of the agreement.


When determining the terms of this type of agreement, it is important to clearly define the expectations of each parent. Some things the document might cover include:

  • Amount of tuition paid – A private and public university can have vastly different price tags. Additionally, if a child chooses an out-of-state institution it can also be rather costly. Determine how much you are willing to pay each year/month or come up with a lump sum amount to cover the entire education.
  • Who pays what – Will the expenses be split 50/50 by each parent or will each cover a different part of the bill. Perhaps one will pay the room and board and the other the course fees. Will your child be responsible for any portion of the bill? Some parents choose to have their student cover the cost of books and extra expenses.
  • Conditions – Are there specific conditions under which you will not pay? For example, what are the repercussions should your child fail a class or get into trouble at school. These need to be clearly defined so that both parents and child know what is expected in order for financial assistance to continue.
  • Payments – How will payments be made to the school. Is each parent making monthly payments? Will payments be made at the start of the semester or are funds placed into an account after high school graduation with the payment responsibility placed on the child?
  • Living arrangements – Will your child live at school or will they commute? Additionally, will you pay for an apartment or will they be required to live in student housing for the duration of their college years?

Creating clear expectations in writing is crucial to ensure that you are not surprised as you get set to send your child off to school. If you or someone you know is looking or compassionate family law representation, contact the team at McLario, Helm, Bertling & Spiegel.

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