Friday, April 22, 2005

MAKING THE GRADE: Mediation can help divorcing parents plan ahead for college for their children

Mediation can help parents discuss planning for college for their kidsThe Boston Globe recently published “The college rejection letter”, a column by David Nyhan first appearing in 1987, which offers hope by putting into perspective for high school seniors the college application process.

It is indeed that time of the year when around the country high school students await (or dread) the arrival of the college acceptance letter. It is an important rite of passage and marks the transition from dependence and childhood to independent adulthood.

Planning and making decisions about college education involves parents as well, since more often than not it is they who will be providing financial support to enable their children to pursue their academic and career goals. It can be a tough issue even for happily married couples to wrestle with.

But what happens when couples are divorced or going through a divorce? Disputes over how to pay for college are understandably common among divorced or divorcing parents.

Mediation can of course make a tremendous difference here in two cases.

First, as part of the divorce process, a mediator can help a divorcing couple work together to address how to pay for college. Planning ahead can be hard—often when parents divorce, the children involved are young and college seems years away. It can be hard for parents to even imagine their preschoolers as high school graduates. Mediators can make sure parents think not only about the short-term, but think realistically about and plan for the long-term as well. This is where it can definitely make sense as part of that process to consult with a financial planner who can help parents strategize about ways to finance college education.

Secondly, couples who have been divorced for a number of years and and who are having a hard time reaching agreement about paying for college can use mediation to resolve their differences and work out a plan that will be acceptable to both parents.

Apart from being a means for reaching consensus about financing and paying for college, mediation is also useful to address other issues relating to children and their education. For example, children may wish to participate in extracurricular activities or attend summer programs. Or, parents may want to enable their children to attend private schools to give them educational advantages prior to going to college. Although these objectives are important to parents and to kids, in the case of divorced parents, paying for these opportunities can be difficult when there are now expenses for two households instead of just one. As a result, disagreements can arise and tempers flare.

These kinds of differences of opinion can also be addressed through mediation, which means that parents can work together to create their own plans that will fit their budgets and at the same time help their kids achieve their ambitions.

There are several web sites where parents and prospective college students can begin their search for information on financing college education, including links relating to scholarships, loans, internships, and grants. These web sites are:

For information about certified financial planners, you can visit CFP.net, the web site for the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc., or visit the web site for the Financial Planning Association.