College students pay more when parents are divorced

College students pay more when parents are divorced

An article by Pamela Yip of the Dallas News reports that college students from divorced or remarried households shoulder a heavier financial burden than those from a two parent household.   Yip writes:

Here’s another reason to stay married: The financial burden of college falls more heavily on students with divorced parents or remarried parents than on students with parents who have stayed married.

That’s according to a study by researchers from Rice University in Houston and the University of Wisconsin.

The study, published in the current issue of the Journal of Family Issues, found that divorced parents contributed about a third of what married parents contributed to their children’s education, even though the divorced parents’ incomes are about half as much as their married peers’.

The study also found that remarried parents contributed about half of what married parents contributed, despite having incomes similar to those parents who have stayed married.

The study, which took place from 2006 to 2007, was conducted by Ruth Lopez Turley, associate professor of sociology at Rice University; and Matthew Desmond, then a doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin and now assistant professor of sociology and social studies at Harvard University.

The researchers discovered that married parents contributed about 8 percent of their income to their child’s college costs and met 77 percent of their children’s financial needs.

In contrast, divorced parents contributed about 6 percent of their income and met just 42 percent of their children’s financial needs.

Remarried parents contributed only 5 percent of their income and met 53 percent of their children’s needs.

“What we’re seeing is that the cost burden of higher education is shifted to the student in families with divorced or remarried parents,” Turley said. “Remarried parents contribute significantly less than married parents, in absolute dollars, as a proportion of their income and as a proportion of the children’s financial need, even though they have similar incomes.”

That’s not surprising, considering the financial drubbing divorce can levy on a family.

“The process of going through a divorce is the largest financial transaction that most people face in their lives,” said Joanna Jadlow, a certified public accountant, certified financial planner and director at Robertson, Griege & Thoele Financial Advisors in Dallas.

“It creates not only an emotional burden to the family but a financial one as well. Following a divorce, the combined income of the family must be transitioned from supporting one household to supporting two households. This means that nearly every family has to cut back their lifestyle following a divorce,” she said.

Once a parent has been through the financial fallout of a divorce, “both the professional fees and the splitting of the marital estate, they naturally become more cautious about retaining what assets they have,” said Jadlow, who often serves as the financial expert in divorce cases.

“This means that contributing to the cost of their child’s college education may not feel as comfortable as it did prior to the divorce,” she said.

For remarried parents, their financial situation is more complicated because it often includes children from each spouse’s former marriage.

“These parents have gone through a financially burdensome divorce, have lived on their own for a period of time, and may have fallen behind financially, compared to their married peers before the second marriage occurs,” Jadlow said. “In addition, the financial cost-sharing in blended families may happen in many different ways, depending on the specifics of each family situation.”

Turley and Desmond’s study used parent and student interview data from a subsample of the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study of the 1995-96 academic year.

The researchers focused on 2,400 dependent undergraduate students whose parents were married, divorced or separated, or remarried.

“The findings are troubling for college-bound students with divorced, separated or remarried parents,” Turley said. “They are at a disadvantage because they need to shoulder more of the costs of their education. Their first priority becomes funding their education, not completing their education.”

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