The media can’t seem to stop generating stories about how Bruce Jenner is now Caitlyn Jenner.  I watched Diane Sawyer’s interview with Jenner about the physical and emotional process.  How about the legal process?  Has "Bruce Jenner" legally become "Caitlyn Jenner?"   I don’t know.  I do know that the process of changing your name is not difficult, but like any legal process, it’s not simple.

Legally changing your name requires filing documents with the court.  You must give notice to anyone who may be affected.  Some states require a hearing, and the process concludes when the judge signs the order. Like many legal proceedings, a petition for name change can be filed pro se, without an attorney.  However, it may be cost effective to hire an attorney.  The attorney can identify potential problems and help you through the process.

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This is the last of my three part series addressing questions that divorcing parents may have about paying for their child’s college expenses.  We began by looking at the age when the formal obligation to pay  child support terminates. We then examined how an agreement can permit the parents to share in the expenses after divorce.  Today we’ll look three special considerations for children going to college after their parents' divorce.


1:  Financial aid is usually based on the custodial parents income.  The “custodial parent” is the parent with whom the student lived with most during the year before they attend college.  You should include this in the custodial agreement or parenting plan.  If the student is living equally with both parents, the parent providing the most support is the custodial parent.  Please remember that if the custodial parent has remarried, his or her spouse’s information is reported.  Financial aid may be maximized when the custodial parent has a lower income

 2: Since financial aid is based on the custodial parents income, the parties should be considering that issue when addressing spousal support.  A sudden increase in the custodial parent’s income could impact any financial assistance.

 3: We live in an area with many wonderful public, in-state schools.  Whether a child can apply for admission and pay in-state tuition will be different in each state.  Additionally, each school or university decides whether or not a student qualifies for in-state tuition.  Check with the university your child is planning to attend for their policies.  However, some basic guidelines for neighboring states is available. 

  • Virginia:   Your child may be eligible for  in-state residency status after a divorce even if the child resides in another state.  For example, consider the situation when a child wants to attend the University of Virginia or Virginia Tech.    If the father lives in Reston and pays child support, but the child lives in Jefferson County and attended high school in West Virginia, the child may be eligible for admission as an in-state student based on the father’s residency.  General information about Virginia schools is available by clicking here.   
  • Maryland:  Generally, a child must reside in Maryland for a period of 12 months prior to attendance to be eligible for in-state tuition.  Further information can be obtained here. 
  • West Virginia:  The child has in-state residency status after a divorce in West Virginia when the parent with whom the child resides lives in West Virginia.  WVU spells out their requirements here.  
  • District of Columbia:  In addition to attending UDC, residents of the District may also be eligible for a grant to offset out of state costs.  Residency of the students will be determined by the domicile of the parents.  To learn more about the DC TAG program, click here. To learn more about the DC residency requirements for UDC, click here
  • Pennsylvania:  Pennsylvania's residency requirements vary significantly from school to school.    It appears that Penn State construes the requirement to permit either parent to be domiciled in Pennsylvania  while Shippensburg State seems to base the decision on the basis of where the child resides.

Today's tip:  PLAN!  Regardless of how you decide to fund your child's higher education after divorce, the child will benefit when the parents work together to develop the best plan for your child to enjoy success in their educational endeavors.


This post is part of a three part series addressing how divorcing parents might address higher education costs.  Yesterday, we addressed the question:   “How long is a parent required to pay support?”   Today, we’ll consider whether divorcing parents should agree to share the costs of their children’s college. The laws in the states where I practice do not require parents to pay college costs, but parents can agree in their divorce agreement to share in the costs.   Consider several questions before entering into an agreement to be sure your agreement is in the best interest of your child and your family.

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Where to Start?

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This morning, I read that the most divorces are filed in January and September.    When I first began practicing law, I was taught that the divorce process began with filing a complaint.  The client came in, retained us, and we filed the complaint or petition.  We then served it on the opposing person, the spouse, via the sheriff and awaited the response to the complaint.  After practicing for almost thirty years and earning my masters degree in conflict transformation, I have abandoned this process.  My clients who wish to be divorced get divorced, but the processes I recommend are much less expensive and much less likely to cause further family disharmony and strife than the process I followed in 1987.

How does the new process work?  We work out the resolution first, and then file the paperwork with the court.   We still exchange all financial information or other relevant information, just as is required by the law in most states.  We still address the financial needs of the parties and then negotiate to meet those needs.  We still wind up with a final decree that will provide for issues such as the divorce, custody, property division or support.

Additionally, we have the opportunity to work at the pace that the parties desire, rather than the court schedule.  We have a far greater range of options than those available by statute.  We have a streamlined process wherein the parties will not pay for lawyers to attend temporary or status hearings, respond to correspondence or discovery requests or prepare for contested hearings.  The bottom line:  the parties direct the course of their divorce and save time and money in the process.

Exactly what happens?  Using mediation or collaborative law, the parties will exchange information and then get together in one or in a series of meetings.  During those meetings, the parties, and their attorneys (if the parties desire) will work out the details of their agreement.  The agreements will be put into writing and then filed along side the paperwork to start the divorce.  The court will set one hearing.  The parties will attend the hearing, if required by statute, and in most circumstances, the court will adopt the parties agreement and enter a final order.

Some people think that this type of process is impossible.  If you think you are one of those people, you may think that there is no chance for an agreement, not in your case.  However, chances are strong that your divorce or custody case will be resolved through a settlement.  Nationwide 95% of all divorce cases are resolved through an agreement, not through a court ruling  The question becomes when do you want to reach an agreement and how?  Do you want to spend thousands of dollars on attorney fees and reach an agreement on the courthouse steps the day of your trial?  Would you prefer to work out an agreement in a less stressful atmosphere on your own schedule?  With collaborative divorce and mediation, that is possible.

Why not go ahead and file the divorce and then negotiate the agreement?  There are many reasons why “just filing” may not be a good idea.  The moment parties file the divorce petition; they are put on the court’s schedule.  The court has strict timeframes that it will want to adhere to.  After filing, it is more difficult to negotiate.  If both parties hire attorneys who are not working collaboratively, just making an offer requires one party to convey the offer to their attorney, who conveys it to the other attorney, who coveys it to your spouse.  The process is then reversed to respond.  This is a very expensive version of the “telephone” game that we played in elementary school.   In mediation and collaborative meetings, everyone is in the room together.  Not only does that save time, and provide for less opportunity for erroneous communication, but also it often saves a significant amount in attorney fees.  

Perhaps the biggest problem, with “just filing” is it sets the stage for an adversarial process.  The final hearing date will loom ahead.  The entire process of negotiation is riddled with worry and dread as the parties move cautiously through the formal court processes.

Of course, after filing, you continue to have the option of mediation, and should consider it.  However, engaging in mediation BEFORE filing the suit provides a superior opportunity for a good resolution in most circumstances.  Both mediation and collaborative divorce provide many opportunities for a good resolution.  Delaying filing in those cases, may actually expedite the final decision.