Should I pay for my daughter's college education?

And if so, why?

Before I run down the basics, let me just say that this matter is probably going to be decided in court this summer (she entering college in the fall), and I’m trying to figure out my moral responsibilities rather than my legal ones (though opinions are welcome on all counts.)

My daughter stopped speaking to me at age 15. (Her mother and I divorced when she was six, and we had a close relationship for the next nine years, as far as I can tell.) I asked to explain why she had taken such a powerful animosity to me all of a sudden, and she said I frightened her and had created a hostile atmosphere (her exact words). When I asked her what I did to frighten her and create such an atmosphere, she refused to discuss it. Over the last three years, I have asked her repeatedly, mainly by e-mail, which is all the access she (involuntarily) gives me, if I ever struck her or spoke harshly to her or even raised my voice to her–I vigorously deny ever doing any of these things, and they are about the only things that might frighten her, as far as I can tell. Her response was to refuse to discuss it at first, and over the last year or so, to refuse to answer my e-mails.

The only other relevant information is that I have been proposing that she and I see a family therapist virtually throughout this period, as soon as I discovered that she felt uncomfortable talking directly to me, and researched the names of various child psychologists in her area. At first she told me, she needed to see a woman therapist, so I interviewed two female therapists in her area (she lives about 150 miles away from me), but when I’d set up an appointment with one of them, my daughter refused to go.

Her mother, my ex-wife, fully supports her in breaking off with me, and maintains that of course I have created a poisonous atmosphere, so why would my daughter want anything to do with me. Meanwhile, my younger daughter (now 14) continues to spend weekends and holidays with me, and assures me that she isn’t the least bit uncomfortable with my behavior and doesn’t understand what her older sister is going on about. (I’ve tried not to put my younger girl in the middle of this, but I did ask her a few questions to see how this crisis was affecting her–she seems to be getting through as well as can be imagined.)

Without consulting me–or specifically, rejecting all my best advice–my daughter applied to her mother’s alma mater, a Seven Sisters school in the city I live in (and one of the most expensive schools in the country), got a partial scholarship, and recently presented me for a bill for half of the remaining sum–which is still a gigantic bite.

I intend to argue in court that her actions are those of an emancipated minor who has willfully cut off all contact between me and her for three years, has resisted repeated attempts on part to repair the rift, and so is no longer entitled to financial support while maintaining this stance. (My attorney tells me that sometimes this argument is entertained by the courts, and sometimes not, but we have a strong case.)

I feel awful about doing this–but maybe not as awful (in a different way) than I would if I shelled out a small fortune for the education of someone who treats me with such contempt and indifference. My attorney assures me that I am, after all, a parent and not an ATM machine, which is how she’s treating me, and I don’t think I have much choice but to follow through on this legal action, but I feel all emotionally jangled. I showered such love on her as she was growing up, it’s very hard to turn all of that love off and treat her as someone antagonistic to me, even though Ive gotten very little other than antagonism for three years from her. I’m just sick over this, and it’s eating away at my enjoyment of life, as my younger girl prepares to spend the next few weeks with me. The prospect of being compelled by the court to pay for this expensive education is also making it hard for me to spend any money lately. I bought a new TV the other day (my ten year old TV died) and I couldn’t believe the anxiety I felt about spending that money when I had this financial disaster looming over me.

I guess I feel very conflicted, and would be interested in hearing some of your opinions, even from those of you whose divorced fathers meanly tried to get out of paying for your educations and who are angry about it. That’s the part that bothers me the most–if there was any chance of repairing this rift, this court action is going to wreck it, I’m afraid for good. OTOH, there doesn’t seem to be much hope for repair even if I do pay for it.

Your last two sentences are what makes this so hard. That’s the part that only you can answer.
But I don’t think there is any reason for you to have to pay for this. She is 18 now and has cut off all contact from you. Why the hell should you be obligated to pay for her college? Or pay for her anything at this point.

Is this something that the courts normally say a father must pay for??? Is a father in your situation actually responsible to give a child money for college even though the child is no longer a minor?? That’s crazy. I thought child support was for clothes and food and all the necessary things a minor child needs. I didn’t realize that college, especially a super rich fancy college, was something you were obligated to provide for her.

Seems to me that even if you were obligated to pay for her college, you shouldn’t have to pay more than the tuition of a community college or regular state university. If she opts to attend something fancier, that’s on her.

Well, here is the best argument I have ever found for 15 year olds to NOT be in charge of their lives.

I dunno if she and Mumsy have entered into some kind of latent “hate my ex-husband” pact–it sure sounds like it to me. Of course, being far away and really only a memory, it is easy to pick apart statements and experiences and put a negative spin on them.

My bullshit-o-meter is dinging like a crazy thing here–she is articulate enough to state that you create a hostile environment, but won’t elucidate? And lil sis is fine with you?

What the hell? There has to be something or else she is lying and in doing so protecting her relationship with someone else (Mumsy) or acting out to such a degree that she does indeed need counselling.

A good stratetgy here would be(and I think you should suggest this to Mumsy–and somehow document the suggestion) for you to suggest to Mumsy that dear daughter go to counselling all by herself–hell, offer to pay for the visits, with you as the adult that meets with the counsellor.

You don’t have the sessions with her–but you pay and you are the contact person at least initially. I think you should do this to cover your bases with the court, frankly. I have no doubt that Mumsy will shoot it down. I hold out hope that dear daughter will agree to go. It will be an added expense and probably very inconvenient, with the distance, but it’s worth a shot.

Otherwise, I say take the course you are taking. Is there any way to explain to her (without it sounding like a threat/ultimatum) that unless you get some answers from her and a better relationship that you are not, as your lawyer so pithily put it, an ATM machine? What does your divorce decree stipulate?*

If the only contact you two have is in the courtroom thru lawyers–I’d say your relationship is toast for a least a decade. But remember, she will be growing up in that decade, and away from Mumsy a great deal.
I am can tell that you love your daughter. All I can say is that there are none so blind etc. I also think that lil sis in a werid way isn’t helping things. Maybe dear daughter has painted herself into a corner and wants to get out, but teenage pride and daily poison wont’ let her. Hence my advocating counselling–its’ a way out for her–to soften the harshness towards you, but she also saves face. Face is huge to teens.

*My mother’s stipulated that my Dad was to pay for all(5) the kids’ college. He was the one who stipulated that college had to out of state. And he was an ATM machine in college–a controlling, anal, you-don’t-need-new-shoes-because-I-was-a-child-of-the-Depression ATM. It was hell. But I hid my anger towards him for many years (and am actually just now, at 43 comfortable enough with him to show him when I am pissed). I have more appreciation for what he did now, but I still don’t like the way he did it. It wasn’t my fault that he was forced to pay and that I needed new shoes or whatever.

I’m a bit confused.

You say that 3 years ago, when your daughter was 15, she quit speaking with you. That makes her 18 at the moment - a legal adult, at least in most places.

As far as I know, you’re not legally or financially responsible for an 18 year old, with the exception that some states/countries hold the parents responsible until the child graduates from high school, even if they turn 18 before graduating.

Regardless, I don’t think a parent is ever legally obligated to pay for a child’s college tuition. Even ethically and morally, I don’t see an obligation. Sure, if a parent can afford it, it’s nice for them to pay for college, but face it - a college age person is an adult. Ultimately, an adult is responsible for his/her own tuition payments. I wouldn’t lose any sleep over this if I were you.

I don’t believe parents who have full custody of their children should be required to pay for their children’s college, and you’re certainly outside of that category. It seems to me that you’ve done all that you could. Paying for her college - when she’s chosen one of the most expensive ones around - will hurt you financially, hurt any plans you have for the daughter who still speaks to you, and not bring your estranged daughter any closer. If I were the one deciding, I’d let you off the hook.

It seems to me that you are required, morally, to support your child until she is an adult, at which time she is responsible for herself. If she is 18, then she should be able to take care of herself, not rely on handouts from someone that she doesn’t seem to like. One risk you might have of denying this support would be to your relationship with your younger daughter. Would she be influenced by her sister and her mother’s reaction to your cutting her sister off? What’s her view of this?

I would think that legally is would depend upon your divorce decree and whatever child support is required from that. I once worked for the housing department of a university and it seemed like most of the delinquent accounts I saw came from one divorced parent expecting the other parent to pay and it not happening, so I don’t think your situation is unique.

I understand why your heart is breaking over this, but at the same time, I completely agree with your contention that this young lady hasn’t earned the privilege of tapping into your pocket book for her education. She sounds like a spoiled, selfish, bitter child who could use a lesson in growing up and taking responsibility for her actions. And taking on the financial burden of her own education is the price she should have to pay for excommunicating you from her life. No one has the “right” to have their parents pay their college tuition, (especially seeing as how she’s technically considered an adult now, at age 18), and many, many, MANY kids either pay their own way or never even get to go because it’s not financially feasible. I think you’re doing exactly the right thing.

It’s sad that this may result in furthering the rift. I can’t imagine how this must be tearing you apart. But try to look at it from a “good parenting” perspective – you are teaching her about what it’s like to be an adult, making adult decisions and accepting the consequences of those decisions. In the “real,” “grown-up” world, there aren’t people she can kick around and then expect them to pay her way through life.

Life’s hard. This lesson will suck. But them’s the breaks. I hope you’ve documented all your efforts over the years. Good luck, and I hope it all works out.

It seems to me that she’s made it clear she doesn’t want you to be her father in the emotional sense (and lord, I can’t even imagine how painful that must be) – but, in that case, she has absolutely no right whatsoever to expect you to be a father in a financial sense, esp. for a college education, esp. at an expensive school.

Hang in there. Make sure you’ve got someone to talk to about this besides your lawyer – a friend, a shrink, whoever. You know, “how do you feel about that,” etc.

Based on your OP, I’d say you’re morally in the clear. But I’m surprised that your divorce decree doesn’t address the issue of who pays for college.

Legally? I have zero experience in divorce matters, and I’m probably not even licensed in your state. Don’t rely on this as competent legal advice. I am aware, however, that at least some states allow a divorce court to compel a parent to pay for college costs. In my state, I’d even call the practice common.

I found this:

from here. So yes you might be made to pay if you can. I don’t understand this, if some one is paying child support, they can be made to pay if they have the money. However, what happens if the parents are not divorced and can pay, can the child then sue to get money? Doesn’t seem fair at all for a child to be able to get money in one case and not another.

Sorry, folks-she seems to be 18–I read the OP incorrectly.
And why isn’t Mumsy ponying up something for this 7 sister deal?

I don’t have any advice that hasn’t already been given, so I’m just here to offer a pat on the back and say, “Man, that sucks,” and to say that I think you’re in the right.

I have two little girls of my own (ages 3 and 2) and I can’t imagine how hard it would be to have one of them turn her back on me.

It appears as though she might be. Per the OP,

So it sounds like either mom or the child herself are picking up half of what’s not covered by the scholarship and expect dad to pay the other half.

Does your daughter or your ex-wife know you post here, and under what handle? If so, I’d think about asking the mods to consider closing your current 'Pit thread about your parking problem. Just a cautionary thought.

I guess she is paying the other half.
How is your relationship with your ex? Could there be some other influence? (boyfriend? girlfriend?) Is your wife dating someone?
Do you want to send the message that you pay for her love? That your support of her is dependent on her loving you in the way you see fit?

I’m really not sure about this one. I think there is something strange going on with your daughter and I think that issue needs resolving and not the tutition. If I was in your position, and I could afford it, I think I would pay it. But then again, I’m a big doormat.

Perhaps your daughter might get student loans for some of the cost?

I believe that you are morally obligated to pay for your child’s college - providing you can afford it. You are not, however, obligated to pay for the college of her choice. State school. If she wanted more, she should have maintained a relationship with the guy holding the checkbook.

And that is the arguement I’d make for the judge. No one mandates that even custodial parents pay for Stanford.

I don’t understand why this even has to go to court in the first place. Is your daughter suing you for the cost of tuition?

The time to discuss who should pay college expenses was years ago, not something to be sprung at the last moment.

What a heartbreaking situation-I hope it goes okay for you. I do believe that a parent is ethically obligated to pay for as much education as he/she can afford but that duty comes with a reciprocal duty in the child. My parents have subsidized a large part of my education but they wouldn’t have done it under the circumstances you describe.

I just want to point out one thing-if you don’t pay for your older daughter’s education and you do pay for your younger daughter-it is going to make things doubly worse. Siblings close in age can have a lot of rivalry about this stuff. It’s for this reason that my parents insisted my sister and I go to the same undergraduate institution and for graduate school they gave us both exactly the same amount of money even though she was in a longer, more expensive program and I’m going to make good money a lot faster than she is (we’re less than two years apart).

I second what others have said: that even if you had full custody of the girl and she were running around in a t-shirt that says, “My Dad ROCKS!”, you’re not morally obligated to put her through college (especially an expensive one). And quite frankly, I don’t get how you’d be legally responsible for it, either, so the fact that you’re going to court over it surprises me (nothing against you, I’m just wondering how the whole thing became court-worthy in the first place).

I have a friend who, for reasons unknown to me (maybe she was justified, maybe not), cut off contact with her father. Then one day, when she was planning a move to another city and was short on cash, she gathered up her medical bills (nothing serious, just routine allergy shots and the like) and sent them to her father, with a letter saying that he should pay for them to make up for all the birthday and Christmas presents he never gave her.

At this point she was damn near 30. I told her it was a bad idea, but she insisted that she was really proud of herself for having done it.

He sent the bills back to her, with a check to cover them, and a long letter back to her telling her that it was high time she got her act together and showed a little more financial responsibility.

She was mad.

Nobody listens to me.

But the point is, if you decide that you do want to pay for your daughter’s education, I would take this opportunity to tell her exactly what you think of the situation. I mean, come on–with the price of college nowadays, I think you’ve at least bought yourself the satisfaction of a lecture. :wink:

College is a decision to be made by a student who will soon be an adult, and his or her parent or parents, who are assumed to be adults. It should be a two- or three-party discussion with pros and cons all around. My parents and I talked about all sorts of options. They had paid for a rather expensive private high school with the understanding that I would begin to help pick up the slack for college. That left me with (1) a free ride to several excellent state schools, (2) student loans to an impressive private institution, or (3) An Air Force ROTC scholarship to any of the schools I had chosen (full ride + service commitment).

It was made clear to me that I “deserved” the best education out there – but that not everybody always gets what they deserve without paying something back. I went with #3 and paid my way through college with push-ups and sit-ups.

She never discussed her options with you, or asked you if you would be able to pay the tuition at any of her choices, or even asked if one particular school might be better or worse for her. Having solicited no input beforehand, it is grossly unfair of her to expect any sort of financial backing now. To assume such a large burden without ever communicating is not just rude but shockingly unjust.