Divorce Laws in California Regarding Education & Children

by Beverly Bird
California law doesn't require that parents automatically contribute to education costs.

California law doesn't require that parents automatically contribute to education costs.

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In the heat of divorce, issues of child custody and support are at the forefront of your mind. They must be resolved before you and your spouse can officially part ways, but your children have educational needs, too. These should be addressed in the divorce agreement as well, but it's not mandatory in California. You and your spouse can negotiate post-divorce terms for your children's education in a marital settlement agreement, or you can ask the court to decide these terms at trial. If you don't, the issue can be easily overlooked.

California Divorce

California's divorce laws are relatively streamlined. It's a no-fault state, so you and your spouse don't have to cast blame to obtain a divorce. After you file your documents to begin the divorce process, the state imposes a six-month waiting period before the court will finalize the divorce. You can use this time to negotiate a marital settlement agreement, but even if you complete and sign the agreement within just a few months, the court won't order a final decree until six months have passed. This gives you a little time to make sure you've covered all issues in your agreement, including your children's education.

Grade School

Child support does not cover educational costs in California. State law considers costs for school extra or discretionary expenses. If the parties can't reach a marital settlement agreement, the judge decides costs for schooling on a case by case basis because there's no statutory rule. If you want your child support order to cover the costs of private grade school, you'll have to convince the judge that private school is necessary and in your child's best interests. For example, if your child attends private school because of special needs, a judge isn't likely to pull her out and place her in a public school because this would not be in her best interests. But a judge probably won't make financial provisions for your child to begin attending private school for the first time after your divorce.

High School

If your child is a teenager at the time of your divorce and a year or two away from graduating from a private high school you and your spouse have traditionally paid for during the marriage, a judge might be reluctant to uproot her and force her to change schools. But regardless of whether your child attends private or public school, child support continues in California until she graduates from high school. The state's age of majority is 18 and child support will end on your child's 18th birthday if she has already graduated high school. Otherwise, it continues until graduation or until she turns 19, whichever happens first.

College

Unlike some states, California has no statutory provisions for college costs. Judges can't order child support to continue through your child's college years and they can't order you or your spouse to pay for post-secondary education expenses. You can include these provisions in a marital settlement agreement, however, and if you do, the court will uphold them. Because no state laws govern post-secondary education expenses, you can get creative -- your agreement can be tailor-made to your family's particular needs and incomes.