Your oldest child is finally headed off, or back, to college. If you’re divorced, it can be a bit harder emotionally, even if you’ve already done this once in the Fall. Perhaps even more difficult to come to terms with is the knowledge that your child is no longer bound to a visitation schedule, mandating that he or she spend time with either parent.
Even though it’s difficult, there are a few things you can do to help your children make their way in the world once they go off to school. If you and your ex are on amicable terms, you can work through the list together. If not, then this list could help ensure that you don’t forget anything important.
The finances of college
- Submit a Federal Application For Student Aid (FAFSA) if you anticipate needing a loan to pay for your child’s education. If your former spouse was ordered to pay for any part of your child’s college education, make sure the two of you discuss this before the deadline comes. If there’s a dispute over this and you have a payment deadline looming, be prepared to submit the FAFSA, but do not allow the situation to interfere with your ex participating otherwise. This is for your child, not for you.
- Discuss with your child and your former spouse whether your child will work during his or her freshman year, or just focus on studies and extracurricular activities. If the decision is not to work, you’ll need to plan for additional financial support during the school year.
- Start a savings account for your child for first year incidentals and emergencies. Discuss with your former spouse whether he or she would be willing to contribute equally, unless a court order dictates otherwise.
The day-to-day living
- Make sure your child has a proper health plan in place. Most colleges have a student health clinic where they can get free care for general health issues. If something more serious is afoot, your son or daughter may need to go to urgent care or the hospital. If your child has a chronic health issue and will be attending college far from home, look into finding specialists in the area to treat your child during the school year.
- Ensure any transportation needs are taken care of whether it be providing your child a gas card or purchasing passes for public transportation systems if he or she attends college in a major metropolitan area.
- Take care of housing needs if your son or daughter will be living off campus. This means setting up utilities and possibly paying deposits. If your child will be living in dorms or college apartments, be sure to secure his or her bed on time.
The day of the move
- On move-in day, if you can get along without issue, arrange to take your son or daughter to college together. If you feel being in the same car with your ex for any amount of time is a bad idea, divide the day and the duties. One of you can bring your child and all of his or her belongings to their new “home” and take him or her out for lunch. The other parent can participate by helping to unpack then taking your child to dinner.
Helping younger siblings adjust when the oldest goes to college
Your younger child may be having trouble adjusting to the situation as well. He or she is getting ready to possibly be the “only child,” and it can have a negative or positive impact. Your younger child may not deal well with the current custody schedule, depending on the existing relationship with his or her other parent. He or she may feel jealous of all the attention his/her sibling receives in the months up to the big day: visiting colleges, help with applications, shopping for new clothes or furniture, a graduation party, etc.
If you notice your younger children acting out, make the process a family affair. Invite them to go shopping for supplies, planning a going away party, and packing up, so they don’t feel left out.
We know that with your oldest going off to school, your first instinct will be to spend more time with him or her: after all, your younger children will still be at home, and you can still see them just as often. But this type of thinking can actually harm your younger children, who may feel resentful of you, or feel as though you are taking advantage of him or her. By carving out some time to do things with your other children, you remind them that they are equally important and equally loved.
At Miller Upshaw Family Law, PLLC, we want your children to succeed, and we want you to have access to the tools to help them do just that. If you have questions about the impact college could have on your divorce decree, contact our Nashville divorce lawyers for help. Reserve a consultation by calling our office at 615-454-9899, or reach out to us through our contact page.
Karla C. Miller has devoted her entire career to the practice of family law in Tennessee. She attended Auburn University and Nashville School of Law, and upon graduation in 1996, she opened her own law firm and has been assisting families throughout Tennessee since then. Learn more about Karla C. Miller here.