When you're divorcing, there are so many financial issues to worry about. Selling or refinancing the house, dividing up retirement funds, figuring out how much child support is needed. It's overwhelming even for the most organized of individuals.
So what about college? My clients are usually anxious to discuss how their children's post-secondary education will be funded. In Pennsylvania, child support is paid until age 18 or until the child graduates high school, whichever comes later. There is no obligation to pay any child support after that. If you have been paying private or religious school tuition for your children, that stops too. Nothing after high school (unless your child is special needs, which is another story). Depending on what state you live in, your situation may be completely different.
Not fair, you say? When you were still together, you discussed that you wanted your children to attend college. Of course, because you were still together you didn't discuss that your ex would pay a percentage and you'd pay what was remaining. The subject of payment didn't come up. You just hoped your child(ren) would receive a good scholarship and generous financial aid.
Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do to force the other parent to pay as a legal obligation. My personal belief is that parents should pay a portion of their childrens' college tuition and expenses, if at all possible. Some other parents believe that they paid their own way through school and their children should do the same. There's room for discussion here.
The reason why this is the way it is, is because of the conclusion that children of divorce should not receive a benefit that children of intact marriages do not. In other words, it would be unfair for children of divorce to have their support and tuition paid for, when children of still-married parents would have to pay their own way.
The only way that you can ensure college tuition, books and expenses for your children are legally taken care of is through a comprehensive property settlement agreement. A property settlement agreement is a contract and can be legally enforced. If your spouse does not follow the terms of your property settlement agreement, he or she is in contempt, or breach of contract. Contact your family law attorney if you have questions on this important topic.