Wedding Woes

Ivy league vs house with a yard

Dear Prudence,
My husband is much older than me and is very close to his daughters from his first marriage; they are lovely and smart girls (his youngest will be graduating high school at 16). We have a 2-year-old son together. I get along fine with the girls, but according to the divorce decree, my husband is responsible for all college expenses. One wants to go to medical school and the other got accepted to an Ivy League school!

We could buy a new house in cash for what this will cost us. There are in-state schools just as good, and we could sell our two-bedroom condo and get a place with a backyard for our son to run around in. My husband shuts me down every time I bring it up: The condo is paid for, he promised his daughters, our lives are fine, his girls are going to be the first in the family to get their degrees and they deserve the best, etc. I am made to feel like a wicked stepmother for wanting my son to grow up with a treehouse and a dog. In-state tuition would allow us to do both (or the girls could get student loans like the rest of us). Is there any way I can convince him?

—Out of Our Price Range

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Re: Ivy league vs house with a yard

  • I'm not sure I love Prudie's response:

    No. I understand you’re not threatening to lock his daughters in a golden tower so your son can grow up with free rein of the kingdom, but ... no. They’re not your children. It’s not your call. You live in a perfectly nice condo, and there are public parks for your son to run around in. Lots of people grow up without dogs and lead perfectly normal lives. You have everything you need, and then some. Don’t ask a couple of teenagers to take on student loan debt so you can have more.

    Also, it's weirdly black and white.  Can't there be a compromise somehow?  I wonder if she wants some pie-in-the-sky dream home and won't budge, so it's easier for him to just not budge and they stay put in condo.  

    Plus, I feel like writing the college expenses into the divorce decree is a...questionable(?) practice.  I know many people who do it, but if you were to stay married there's no decree that you have to pay for your kid's college.  I only know one person who's parents fully paid for their college education and it's because her parents have ridiculous $$$$.  We'll help our kids, but we won't be able to afford it all and I also feel like if we have them pay for some of it, then they have skin the game. 
    SP29
  • ShesSoColdShesSoCold bend over and I'll show ya mod
    Moderator 5000 Comments Fifth Anniversary 500 Love Its

    I, too, am no divorce expert but I know of several people who had at least a portion of their college paid for due to a divorce decree - usually by the dad or non-custodial parent. Hell, a girl I went to high school sued her dad for college expenses (divorced and nothing in the decree about college) and freaking won.

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  • I wonder what the breakdown of income is, if this is something he has been saving and planning for or if their college is coming from a joint account. 
    MesmrEwe
  • bleve0821bleve0821 The Shire member
    1000 Comments 500 Love Its Third Anniversary First Answer
    edited April 2016
    I'd love to be a fly on the wall if/when she tells SD(s) exactly why she can't attend her Ivy League dream and/or medical school.  "Because your poor half-brother can't grow up without a DOG!"

    Hot damn.

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    "And when they use our atoms to make new lives, they won’t just be able to take one, they’ll have to take two, one of you and one of me..."
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  • That's why you don't get college expenses written into your divorce decree. You're not legally responsible for college expenses at all as a parent until that happens. She should be pissed at him for being an idiot, not the daughters for wanting to go to expensive schools. Also, how is he responsible all the way through medical school?
    All of this.   I don't understand why this would be written into any decree but again - I'm not divorced.   Why isn't there a cap put on their expenses?   A year's tuition at an ivy is more than I make in a year and I'm not under paid.    

    But all of these issues are things that you work out with the attorneys and your wife.   
  • thisismynickname2thisismynickname2 City By The Lake member
    5000 Comments Sixth Anniversary 500 Love Its First Answer
    Parents who are married with their own biological or mutually-adopted children don't owe the children college at all, much less expensive college. If it's in the divorce papers, I truly don't think there's anything the LR can do about this. If Dad wants to pay for his daughters' expenses without limit and it's technically in the divorce papers too, that's it I think. 

    It really blows though. 
    ________________________________


  • This, dear Prudie, is why they say "for richer or for poorer." You married this guy, (presumably) knowing that he had these responsibilities from his previous marriage to his other children. 

    I don't get why he is on the hook for paying for med school (for many parents, paying for "college" often means "for your bachelor's degree" . . . the majority of grad-level students, even from wealthy families, are on their own through loans or stipends). 

    BUT, whatever the circumstances, you need to stand by your husband in keeping his promises and supporting ALL his children. Brushing it off by saying there are  "in-state schools just as good" -- yeah, sorry but not sorry. If she got into an Ivy League, those diplomas carry a lot more weight than any from state schools. Sure, it's just a piece of paper. But it's a fancy one. And has the potential to change lives a lot more than a treehouse can. 
                        


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  • bleve0821bleve0821 The Shire member
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    I was very fortunate that my parents were able to foot my entire college tuition. I had a half-scholarship, which helped tremendously, but I came out debt and stress free. My FI, on the other hand, has massive student loan debt and I see the stress and anxiety it causes him, now close to a decade later. I have no expectations that by the time we have college-age children we will be able to foot the entire bill like my parents were able to do for me, but I am going to try my absolute hardest to provide my children the same opportunity that my parents were able to give to me. Regardless of what happens.

    If this guy pledged in any way, shape, or form to foot these expenses, whether through divorce proceedings or an oral promise to his children, then he has every right (or obligation) to do so.  I am appalled that this woman would even ask her husband to do anything less for his daughters.  Their child is 2. He's not going to miss a tree house or a dog for several years.

    To me, she does sound like an evil stepmother, and honestly, she should be ashamed of herself, especially given what it sounds like she already has. This is an opportunity for her stepdaughters that a lot of people envy and she shouldn't be so eager to take it away or diminish it in any capacity.


    "And when they use our atoms to make new lives, they won’t just be able to take one, they’ll have to take two, one of you and one of me..."
    --Philip Pullman

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  • thefanciestbecklerthefanciestbeckler Chattanooga, TN member
    1000 Comments 500 Love Its Third Anniversary First Answer
    edited April 2016
    I mean, I get it. It's a bummer to have all that money committed to his daughters' college funds when in her mind the money could be used for something better. But I really can't feel bad for her. There's almost no way she entered into this marriage without knowing that this was in his divorce agreement. So she really just needs to get over it. These aren't her kids, and it isn't her business.

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    Heffalump
  • I got student loans to pay for my college and I graduated with a pretty hefty amount of debt (about 3X the US national average). I had a scholarship that paid for half of my schooling but it was an expensive private school so the loans added up quickly. I worked my ass off with a hard major and got a good job where I worked really hard and saved a ton. Less than 3 years after graduating I have managed to pay it all back. Sure all that debt stressed me way out after graduation but honestly I think I'm a better person because of it. It taught me the value of a dollar.
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  • LD1970 said:
    I was a lawyer in NJ for 18 years, with a heavy focus in family law.  Here, it's state statute to put the college tuition & related expenses in a Judgment of Divorce/Marital Settlement Agreement, and last I saw they were talking about adding grad school too.

    It's a little different in that the norm is for the Judgment to provide that the kid get all available grants and scholarships first, and often loans as well, and then the parents pay by proportion of income.  But if the parents are well-to-do or the income is heavily weighted in favor of one or the other, language more like the one in this OP are seen.

    The other big difference is that there's a NJ case that says, in essence, "Rutgers is a perfectly good school."  It came from a situation where dad was completely out of the loop, hadn't seen mom or kid in a million years, mom and kid decide kid's going to some insanely expensive school, and according to the Judgment, dad's on the hook for his share of the tuition/room/board/etc.  The NJ Supreme Court said, "Oh, no, he's not.  He's on the hook for his share of the tuition/room/board/etc. UP TO the expense that his share of Rutgers would have cost."

    Obviously, parties can agree in their divorce that they'll go above and beyond that, but most leave it silent, which means the case holds.  I also never in all my years drafted an agreement that didn't call for the kid to discuss, consult, and decide with both parents where s/he'd go to college, taking into account the parents' incomes and input.

    For the record, I've also always found it odd that parents who stay together can choose not to pay for their kids' college, but parents that get divorced are statutorily on the hook.  I get that all too often parents will screw their kids to "get back at" the other parent, but it's a very strange result.
    Are you a lawyer in a different state, now?
  • LD1970 said:

    No, paralegal in complex litigation.  Same money, better hours, less angst, tons more time for all the other crazy stuff I do.
    given the cost of law school, lawyering doesn't sound like it's too lucrative. 
  • What she posted is why I finally decided against it once and for all about five years ago.  Now that I'm single with no roots, I've been flirting with it again, but realistically none of the reasons that I chose not to go last time have really changed.
  • Not nearly as lucrative as people think, unless you head for a big firm where you tend to get pigeonholed into one department and not see the inside of a courtroom for the first however many years.  Going the small firm route, I handled my first trial 2 weeks into the job.  Very much more my style, but never a lot of dough, and if I divided out my salary by the hours I spent, I'd be in tears.  I'm sure it was way less than minimum wage.  Now I work M-F, 10-6.  It's like working half days and half a week!
    You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough. ~Mae West
    tigerlily6
  • *Barbie* said:
    LD1970 said:

    No, paralegal in complex litigation.  Same money, better hours, less angst, tons more time for all the other crazy stuff I do.
    given the cost of law school, lawyering doesn't sound like it's too lucrative. 
    If you are both driven and lucky enough (i.e., went to the right school and know the right people), and can nail the coveted firm jobs that will put you on partner track after a few years, then you're set. But, more than likely, you're going to end up with a hefty amount of debt and come out lucky to get a grunt associate position. 

    I'm still really happy to be in law school, though. I love the work I do, and my ambitions are fairly basic -- I'd like to stay in the region where I attend law school in a small town, and work in a small firm. Sure, I'm building up some sizable debt, but I'd rather do that and have a job that complements my skills, talents, and motivations than be stuck doing a job for the rest of my life that was not fulfilling me and having to live in a city (which for me, personally, is just not where I'm happiest). The way I see it, I'm taking on an equivalent sum that a small starter home would cost. As I'll spend a lot more hours of my life at work that I probably will at my own house, may as well enjoy what I'm doing. 
                        


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  • *Barbie* said:
    LD1970 said:

    No, paralegal in complex litigation.  Same money, better hours, less angst, tons more time for all the other crazy stuff I do.
    given the cost of law school, lawyering doesn't sound like it's too lucrative. 
    If you are both driven and lucky enough (i.e., went to the right school and know the right people), and can nail the coveted firm jobs that will put you on partner track after a few years, then you're set. But, more than likely, you're going to end up with a hefty amount of debt and come out lucky to get a grunt associate position. 

    I'm still really happy to be in law school, though. I love the work I do, and my ambitions are fairly basic -- I'd like to stay in the region where I attend law school in a small town, and work in a small firm. Sure, I'm building up some sizable debt, but I'd rather do that and have a job that complements my skills, talents, and motivations than be stuck doing a job for the rest of my life that was not fulfilling me and having to live in a city (which for me, personally, is just not where I'm happiest). The way I see it, I'm taking on an equivalent sum that a small starter home would cost. As I'll spend a lot more hours of my life at work that I probably will at my own house, may as well enjoy what I'm doing. 
    I hope you love it forever.  I did for about 16 years, and stayed in for 2 years too long.  Even now, I'm looking to get away from law & lawyers entirely.  The goal is to be done with it within the next 4 years.
    You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough. ~Mae West
    tigerlily6
  • Reminds me of the old saying "What do they call a Doctor who graduates at the bottom of his/her class?" ... 

    I'm team-wife here...  He's obligated to cover the college expense, but depending on the paperwork, he shouldn't be expected to cover 100% of the costs of Medical School of the daughter's choosing nor Ivy League/Private.  Unless they've got an extra million or two sitting in the bank, both of the daughters aren't forced to put a value on their education nor take it seriously.  Now - if they had to figure out while in school how to pay for it and he writes out a check for any/all loans upon their graduation and all debt erased to fulfill the obligation - that's a different discussion.  It's also not unreasonable for her to say "let's sell the condo and move someplace that we can have a yard!"  Plenty of kids don't have those things is correct, OTOH, is he expecting her to contribute to the step-kids college when they aren't her kids and she wants to move...

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  • LD1970 said:
    *Barbie* said:
    LD1970 said:

    No, paralegal in complex litigation.  Same money, better hours, less angst, tons more time for all the other crazy stuff I do.
    given the cost of law school, lawyering doesn't sound like it's too lucrative. 
    If you are both driven and lucky enough (i.e., went to the right school and know the right people), and can nail the coveted firm jobs that will put you on partner track after a few years, then you're set. But, more than likely, you're going to end up with a hefty amount of debt and come out lucky to get a grunt associate position. 

    I'm still really happy to be in law school, though. I love the work I do, and my ambitions are fairly basic -- I'd like to stay in the region where I attend law school in a small town, and work in a small firm. Sure, I'm building up some sizable debt, but I'd rather do that and have a job that complements my skills, talents, and motivations than be stuck doing a job for the rest of my life that was not fulfilling me and having to live in a city (which for me, personally, is just not where I'm happiest). The way I see it, I'm taking on an equivalent sum that a small starter home would cost. As I'll spend a lot more hours of my life at work that I probably will at my own house, may as well enjoy what I'm doing. 
    I hope you love it forever.  I did for about 16 years, and stayed in for 2 years too long.  Even now, I'm looking to get away from law & lawyers entirely.  The goal is to be done with it within the next 4 years.
    I'm not under a delusion that I will always be in love with the job or the profession. I am sure there will be days, weeks, and even months that I will loathe it. But, I certainly feel it suits my personality better than teaching (my previous job). I did that for several years, but knew within weeks of starting that it wasn't for me. Originally, back in my early and foolish 20s, I wanted to go an academic route and earn a PhD in the humanities, but after I earned my masters, I realized how impractical that was and just kind of slipped into teaching as a back-up. I have 100% respect for teachers, but it was not right for me in any way. I NEVER woke up with enthusiasm for my job, and found myself missing academic work so much. I actually liked working with the students and their parents, even with all their crazy teenage drama, but I felt like the practical skills I am good at and enjoy -- reading, writing, analyzing data and crafting arguments -- were things I never had time to do anymore. Law school is draining for sure, but it is a happy kind of draining for me. I feel useful and productive, at least. And honestly, not any more overwhelmed by the work than I was by teaching. But we'll see. Maybe someday down the road I'll change things up and want to go the paralegal route, too. It sounds like a pretty good gig!
                        


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  • LD1970 said:
    *Barbie* said:
    LD1970 said:

    No, paralegal in complex litigation.  Same money, better hours, less angst, tons more time for all the other crazy stuff I do.
    given the cost of law school, lawyering doesn't sound like it's too lucrative. 
    If you are both driven and lucky enough (i.e., went to the right school and know the right people), and can nail the coveted firm jobs that will put you on partner track after a few years, then you're set. But, more than likely, you're going to end up with a hefty amount of debt and come out lucky to get a grunt associate position. 

    I'm still really happy to be in law school, though. I love the work I do, and my ambitions are fairly basic -- I'd like to stay in the region where I attend law school in a small town, and work in a small firm. Sure, I'm building up some sizable debt, but I'd rather do that and have a job that complements my skills, talents, and motivations than be stuck doing a job for the rest of my life that was not fulfilling me and having to live in a city (which for me, personally, is just not where I'm happiest). The way I see it, I'm taking on an equivalent sum that a small starter home would cost. As I'll spend a lot more hours of my life at work that I probably will at my own house, may as well enjoy what I'm doing. 
    I hope you love it forever.  I did for about 16 years, and stayed in for 2 years too long.  Even now, I'm looking to get away from law & lawyers entirely.  The goal is to be done with it within the next 4 years.
    I'm not under a delusion that I will always be in love with the job or the profession. I am sure there will be days, weeks, and even months that I will loathe it. But, I certainly feel it suits my personality better than teaching (my previous job). I did that for several years, but knew within weeks of starting that it wasn't for me. Originally, back in my early and foolish 20s, I wanted to go an academic route and earn a PhD in the humanities, but after I earned my masters, I realized how impractical that was and just kind of slipped into teaching as a back-up. I have 100% respect for teachers, but it was not right for me in any way. I NEVER woke up with enthusiasm for my job, and found myself missing academic work so much. I actually liked working with the students and their parents, even with all their crazy teenage drama, but I felt like the practical skills I am good at and enjoy -- reading, writing, analyzing data and crafting arguments -- were things I never had time to do anymore. Law school is draining for sure, but it is a happy kind of draining for me. I feel useful and productive, at least. And honestly, not any more overwhelmed by the work than I was by teaching. But we'll see. Maybe someday down the road I'll change things up and want to go the paralegal route, too. It sounds like a pretty good gig!
    Funny, when I got soured to law, I was thinking I should've been a teacher, and actually bought the Praxis book to go for an alternate route cert!  I think the personality kind of lends itself to both professions.

    I don't think you're delusional, and I mean it when I say I hope you love it - overall, because we all have crappy days - forever.  Some do, and there's no reason you shouldn't be one of them!  I'm kind of disappointed that I'm not one of them... I decided I wanted to be a lawyer at 16 and did love it for a lot of years.  I figured I'd kick the bucket one day in a courtroom.

    Well, the paralegal route has been much better for me in the end, though I'm still planning to get out entirely.  The wheels are in motion...  :)
    You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough. ~Mae West
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  • 6fsn6fsn member
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    MesmrEwe said:

    Reminds me of the old saying "What do they call a Doctor who graduates at the bottom of his/her class?" ... 

    I'm team-wife here...  He's obligated to cover the college expense, but depending on the paperwork, he shouldn't be expected to cover 100% of the costs of Medical School of the daughter's choosing nor Ivy League/Private.  Unless they've got an extra million or two sitting in the bank, both of the daughters aren't forced to put a value on their education nor take it seriously.  Now - if they had to figure out while in school how to pay for it and he writes out a check for any/all loans upon their graduation and all debt erased to fulfill the obligation - that's a different discussion.  It's also not unreasonable for her to say "let's sell the condo and move someplace that we can have a yard!"  Plenty of kids don't have those things is correct, OTOH, is he expecting her to contribute to the step-kids college when they aren't her kids and she wants to move...

    I bet the person at the bottom of the class didn't have their top choice on match day.  I'm guessing their options were limited with other choices too.  Family practice in BFE Ohio or surgeon in NY. 
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  • SP29SP29 member
    Sixth Anniversary 2500 Comments 500 Love Its 5 Answers
    I think there needs to be a compromise in here somewhere.

    I do and I don't get writing education costs into a divorce agreement. I had a friend in high school whose parents had this agreement. Essentially she lived with her mom who paid all of her daily life costs, so her dad was responsible to pay for her post secondary education as he was not contributing any child or spousal support at the time. Why someone would go this route vs. child support until age 18- I don't know.

    I think if Dad has made this promise, he should uphold it- to a degree. If he has money set aside already- yes, that belongs to his daughters. But just like any married couple or single parent family, when a the child says "I want X" there is a discussion about what is reasonable or not. While he may have legally agreed to pay for an undergraduate degree, does that necessarily also include med school? What if one of his daughters changes her mind- bachelor degree, thesis, med school, no business, no engineer- is he indefinitely on the hook?

    I can also sympathize with new wife if Dad providing for his daughter's education is coming from their joint money. Why can't they buy a house with a yard or get a dog? I think this should be separate from Dad paying for daughters' education.

    Overall, I think the issue is communication. New wife should have been aware of her husband's finances and any divorce agreements prior to marrying him. Dad also needs to be upfront and clear with new wife about current finances.
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  • My main issue with the concept is that there needs to be a limit written into the expenses.   I graduated in 2002.   The cost of tuition at the state university I attended has DOUBLED.   With some private schools costing more than I make in a year, I think it's outrageous that a parent could be subject to such an expense that may be through the roof.

    But all of this should have been hashed out long before mom was left standing in the window of her condo dreaming of a dog.
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  • crowsgirl15crowsgirl15 member
    Seventh Anniversary 500 Love Its 100 Comments Name Dropper
    edited April 2016
    See, the issue here doesn't really seem to be that her husband is obligated to pay the college expenses. The issue really seems to be that he WANTS to pay the college expenses. He "shuts her down", says he promised his daughters and that's that...the backyard and a dog don't really seem like they were ever priorities for him.

    It feels like something they should have dealt with long before a wedding. But it also doesn't really seem like he's being forced to do anything, even if it is in the divorce decree. It seems like he'd do this either way since he "promised them". I think she's just upset that she feels like "her son" is coming in second to "his daughters".

    Not relevant, but were it me? College trumps tree house every time.

    EDIT: Stupid typing mistakes


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  • He wants to pay, which is fortunate since he is legally obligated to do so. She just has a bad case of sour grapes. You should never marry someone divorced without understanding all of their obligations to their first spouse and any children. 
    kimmiinthemittendowntondiva
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