After divorce, should a grandparent's contribution to a college fund count for "their side"?

This one was hard to explain in the space allocated for the subject. Here’s the situation: my mother has been contributing to college funds she established for each of her grandchildren every year on their birthdays, since they were born. My oldest is now a teenager, and this is starting to be a consideration that is not so far off any more.

My ex-wife and I split up when he was five, but my mother has continued to contribute the same amount to the same fund all along. Our divorce decree states that my ex and I are supposed to split college costs equally. My question is whether (as I would obviously prefer) my mother’s college fund for him should be counted toward “my half” of the responsibility, or do you think it should be drained and then the remaining costs split between my ex and me?

Or maybe the portion of it that was funded before we split up should be considered communal and then the part she contributed afterward should be “mine”?

I haven’t broached this issue to my ex yet, but I’d love to hear opinions first.

Post withdrawn…I want to ponder this one some more before responding.

While Oakminster checks his references, I’ll jump in with my two bits.

Divide your mother’s contribution evenly between the children and post that portion against college expenses. The rest get’s divided equally between you and your ex.

Note that I didn’t suggest going through your mother’s part all at once. I’d spread it out over the projected term of the degree plan. That way you’re reducing what you have to pay each semester for a longer period.

ETA: Unless she set up separate funds for each child, then skip the initial division.

Doesn’t it really depend on what your mother wants given it’s her money? Do you have effective control over these accounts?

I don’t really know who has control. I have never seen the paperwork or anything, but she just mentions on every birthday card that she sends the kids that in addition to the gift or check she is sending, she has also made this contribution to their college fund. I do get the impression that each fund is separate for each child.

ETA: No one has contributed to these funds as far as I know except for my mother.

It might be that I should clarify that I’m not proposing doing anything with this money other than using it towards the use for which it was intended. But here’s an example scenario (whether the actual costs are that close to this is somewhat beside the point):

The total college cost for Oldest Child that the divorce decree says my ex-wife and I are supposed to split equally is $50,000. So if there were no other factor involved, my ex-wife and I would each be responsible for $25,000.

But here’s this college fund, which has $10,000 in it. That reduces the amount needed to cover the rest to $40,000. Should my ex-wife and I each pay $20,000 of that? Or does my ex-wife still owe the $25,000 she was originally on the hook for, while I owe only the $15,000 after the $10,000 was credited to my side of the ledger?

For people (if any) who say I should not be so greedy and just chip in the $20 grand: how do I know my ex-wife’s parents aren’t quietly funnelling her money to help pay her side, without so publicly declaring it as a college fund years in advance? If that was in fact going on, then I end up being a sucker in this deal. Or do you think that’s paranoid?

I obviously suspect that my ex-wife will want the college fund to go in first before we split anything. But am I wrong to think a lot of people in her position would angle for that? I’m really unsure as to what the conventional expectation is here.

As for what my mom wants, she probably (and understandably) wouldn’t want to get into the middle of any contentious situation. She would just say if asked she wants the money to go toward helping her grandkids go to college, end of story.

Deep down, I would assume that she would rather her son have to pay $5,000 less and her ex daughter-in-law $5,000 more. But she values having a good relationship with my ex, so I doubt she will take any strong stance but simply apply the funds to tuition and leave it to us to work out the rest.

This isn’t paranoia it’s pettiness. Pure and simple.

This is the correct and grown up way to think and behave in this situation. Looks like your mom still has a thing or two to teach you.

Divorced guy here. Talk to your attorney.

So this isn’t a unified account all 3 of you are contributing to, but rather a separate account your mother has, that will go towards college fees when that’s a thing? So right now it’s not in either you or your ex’s name? In that case, I’d say it’s outside the balance between you and the ex, unless your mom intends transferring it to your account to pay the University, and not paying it to the college/the kid directly herself.

Its a gift from your mother to the kids - you have nothing to do with it. If your mother had given YOU money towards your kids education, then you’d count it - but that isn’t what she did.

The good news though is that you’ll get “credit” for half of it.

That money belongs to your children. Full stop. Man up and pay your share.

I hate when non-custodial parents bitch about child support, and I hate when custodial parents bitch about child support. However, I don’t like court ordered college obligations, since there are a lot of married parents that can’t contribute to college expenses.

In any case, keep all of this out of your conversations with your kids about college. And, please, encourage them to think hard about why they’re going to college, and if they need to do it right away after graduation, teach them about how loans work, and make sure they know about trade schools.


The amount in the fund gets applied to tuition and books and so forth. You and your ex split whatever is left over, and pay for that.

It is none of your business where your ex-wife gets money. She is your ex-wife. You don’t get to have an opinion about how she meets her obligations to your children, so long as she meets them. It is not better for it to be a burden for her to pay for college for your children. So you need to MYOB.

Thank you, God, that I am not divorced.



Your mom’s funding your children’s college education on her own, not subsidizing the part of it that you should fund.

My thinking is that some proportion of the grandmother fund should be removed each semester to pay, but that it should be no more than 1/10 of the total fund (nobody actually graduates in 4 years after all), and the other 9/10 every semester should come from the parents.

The money appears to be a gift to the kids. Although the parents probably have legal title to the money until the kids are 18, I’m betting the money follows the custodial parent.

Another voice to add to the general consensus.

If I gave a gift to your kids for $50 towards their college education, how on earth would it make sense for me to then say, “oh, this is in SlackerInc’s name, so he should have to contribute $50 less.”?
I do understand that there is maybe a sense of “my mom gave my kids this money to help the whole family pay for college,” and so you have some personal stake in it, but in the end it is her gift to the kids, and not to you or your wife/ex-wife.

The best way to deal with this is to ask your mother to stop contributing to the college fund and just start giving you an allowance to help defray your costs. See if she’s amenable to that.

And I’ll be grateful that my first marriage ended with no children and I have no reason to give a single damn what happens in his life (well, other than the occasional schadenfreude, I am human after all).

I’m with MrDibble.

In my view, if the court order finds that you and your wife are both obligated to provide $50,000 for college, I don’t think the mother’s contributions do a damn thing to lower that obligation. Sounds like your mother is giving the money to your kid, which has nothing to do with your obligations under the divorce. If your mother gave the kid $100,000, I do not think that absolves you and your wife of the responsibility to provide $50,000 for the kid’s education.

However, I agree with the advice to consult a lawyer.

I hear you.

Seriously, SlackerInc, you seem to be suggesting that if your parents contribute to your son’s college, that’s fine and should count, but if her parents contribute, it shouldn’t and you’re getting shafted.

Don’t think like that. It’s going to fuck you, your ex, and your son, up.


Your mother isn’t giving money to a college fund to help you, she’s doing it to help her grandchildren. They should benefit. You should not (except indirectly through having fewer expenses total or better educated children).