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How to protect a child's college savings during a divorce

Saving up for college for one or more children requires a lot of saving. Tuition and expenses at private schools now average nearly $50,000 per year, and public institutions in California still cost about $20,000 annually. Over the course of four years or longer, this can be a significant sum. During a divorce, the assets that were put away for education could be at risk. Making sure college money goes to its intended purpose requires a lot of advanced planning before a divorce even seems likely.

While college is important, parents need to be realistic about the expenses that come up as a result of divorce. Child and spousal support will take priorities over higher education. What a parent is required to pay overall depends on their financial situation and background. In some cases, dipping into college savings may be necessary to support more immediate expenses. That's why it's important for parents to plan for many different types of scenarios.

Many parents who focus on college savings open up 529 plans. These tax-free investment instruments are specifically used for educational purposes. Couples who go through a divorce would have ideally opened this type of account long before deciding to separate. These 529 plans can shift owners and beneficiaries, so it's important for parents to have a plan in place.

In almost all cases, it's recommended that both parties in a divorce get representation from a family law practice. A divorce attorney is responsible for protecting the parental and financial rights of their client. Agreements about child support, custody and visitation are frequently made out of court, but a family law judge sometimes needs to make a decision.

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