How Divorced Parents Can Help Their Child Plan for College

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Now that another school year is underway, parents of high school students will soon be facing decisions about their child’s future. If your child’s future involves college, the planning can’t start soon enough. And if you’re divorced, you may need to be especially vigilant about communicating with your ex-spouse during this time.

With that in mind, you and your ex will need to discuss everything from where your child should attend college to who will pay for it. And that’s not all. Who will accompany your child on college visits? What classes will best prepare your child for college? And who will help your child with the application process? The to-do list is long, and it’s daunting, to say the least.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you and your ex navigate this special time with your child:

  • Start the conversations. So much of helping your child plan for college begins with simple conversations. Talk with your child about what he enjoys, what he’d eventually like to study – and how that might lead to a career. This is not something that happens overnight, and it usually requires more than one conversation. You and your ex-spouse must be committed to working on this together, usually over a period of time.
  • Stop the bickering. To be clear, this is not a time to squabble with your ex. Whether you are recently divorced or you’ve been separated for years, you’ll need to put your disagreements aside and start communicating. This is not about you. It’s about your child’s future. Make sure your differences don’t get in the way of what’s best for your son or daughter.
  • Talk about finances. Sit down with your ex and discuss how you plan to pay for your child’s college education. Realize that this includes everything from tuition and housing to the many incidentals, such as books, transportation and social commitments. Will you be sharing the expenses equally? Will you need to borrow money? Is your child eligible for financial aid? Let your child know up front what you can afford and what options are available to help offset the costs.
  • Learn to compromise. You won’t agree on everything. Maybe your ex has her heart set on sending your child to a private college, but you’ve always envisioned her at a big state university. Your child may have an entirely different view of things. Communication is the key to arriving at the best solution, so put aside your differences and realize that it will be necessary to compromise on certain things.
  • Share the responsibilities. Beginning with your child’s sophomore year in high school, you’ll start receiving information from the high school guidance department as well as from various colleges and universities. While it should be your child’s responsibility to manage the influx of information, there will be times when you will need to attend parent meetings and help your child think through the options. You may also need to accompany your child on college visits. When duty calls, be prepared to share these responsibilities with your ex-spouse.

At the end of the day, college planning is just one more aspect of parenting that doesn’t end the day you sign the divorce papers. But because it is often a stressful time, it helps to plan ahead and work closely with your ex to make sure your child remains the priority.

David Lowenstein, Ph.D. is a psychologist and the clinical director of Lowenstein & Associates, Inc. in Columbus, Ohio. In addition to providing therapeutic services to individuals and families, he offers training and consultation to numerous associations, schools and agencies around the country. Additionally, he is a frequent radio and TV guest and a resource and contributing writer for numerous newspapers and magazines nationwide. Contact Dr. David Lowenstein at 691 South Fifth Street, Columbus, Ohio, 43206, or call 614.443.6155 or 614.444.0432.