When your ex refuses to pay college bills

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Q. When we got divorced, our son was only five. He’s now applying to colleges. Our divorce agreement said we would each pay half the tuition. Now my ex says he will only pay $5,000 a year, which won’t be enough to cover his half. What can I do? I can’t afford a lot for another lawyer.
— Worried

A. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for one party to not live up to his or her end of the bargain post-divorce.

But there is a way to obtain relief when one party refuses to comply with a settlement agreement or court order.

The aggrieved party can file an “enforcement motion” asking the court to enforce the terms of the settlement agreement with which the other party has failed to comply, said Thomas Roberto, a family law attorney with Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel in Cherry Hill.

“Enforcement motions are fairly common in post-divorce cases, often in regard to one party’s failure to pay college, child support, alimony and/or equitable distribution obligations,” Roberto said. “They are generally straightforward with a reasonably strong probability of success.”

Roberto said courts will hold people to the agreements they made, and are particularly quick to do so when it comes to an obligation relating to a child, such as college expenses or child support.

Whether you represent yourself or retain an attorney, the time and cost invested in an enforcement motion should not be excessive and in most cases is time and money well spent, he said.

“The moving party may also consider requesting that the court compel the noncompliant party to provide payment for the counsel fees and costs incurred in conjunction with the enforcement motion,” he said.

Receiving an award of counsel fees is never a guarantee in family court, Roberto said, but fees are awarded on enforcement motions more often than other motions.

He said the rationale is that when one party incurs counsel fees due solely to the other party’s noncompliance with an agreement or order, the noncompliant party should pay some or all of those fees.

You should also speak to the college’s financial aid office. Because your circumstances have changed somewhat, it may be more generous with aid.

Email your questions to moc.p1558568661leHye1558568661noMJN1558568661@ksA1558568661.