Putting Your Spouse Through SchoolSupporting your spouse while he or she finishes college or graduate school can be both rewarding and challenging. Potential benefits include a better job, higher income and a brighter future. Challenges include financial stress, lack of time together, long-term commitment to an education plan, etc. The relative weight of these pros and cons depends on age, whether you have children, your financial situation and your support network.

Supporting Each Other

Both school and work can be very demanding, so respect each other’s time and space. If you are the spouse who is not in school, pitch in and help your spouse study and do research. Also consider hosting study groups at your home. This allows you to spend more time with your spouse; too much time apart can eventually cause a rift in the marriage. On the flip side, the spouse who is in school needs to make a concerted effort to find non-school related activities the two of you can do together to stay connected.

Sharing Responsibility

Some spouses easily can afford to pay for their mate’s education and are glad to do so as a show of support. However, you don’t necessarily have to take on the entire financial burden of your spouse’s education. Your spouse might prefer to be in school 100 percent of the time, but if you need additional household income, he or she can work part-time and go to school part-time. Regardless of who pays for tuition, both spouses should approach the marriage as a partnership and do everything they can to contribute.

Avoiding ‘Default’

Sometimes, a person puts their spouse through college, only to see the marriage dissolve shortly thereafter. Before you take on the responsibility of paying all the bills and putting your spouse through school, consider the following:

  1. If you are paying any expenses for your spouse to return to school (books, tuition, labs, etc.), keep your receipts in a safe place indefinitely.

  2. Until recently, spouses who put their partner through school didn’t have much legal recourse in recouping any of the school expenses in the event of a divorce. However, in a case brought to the Supreme Court, a Family Code was created stating, “upon dissolution of marriage or legal separation, the spouse shall be reimbursed for spousal contributions to education or training of a party that substantially enhances the earning capacity of the party.” According to the family law practice of Mello & Pickering in San Diego, “Unfortunately, the statute has several restrictions on reimbursement and it can be difficult to ascertain what expenses may actually be reimbursed. Additionally, if the education was obtained several years previously, it may be difficult to trace the funds actually spent.”

Taking some precautions to avoid getting “stuck with the bill” for your spouse’s education may be wise. However, the best way to protect your “investment” is to focus on keeping your marriage strong.

Having a Vision for the Future

Supporting your husband or wife in finishing school (or furthering his or her education) is a wonderful way to build a strong future for your family. Having an education generally leads to better jobs and higher income. If both of you agree to the boundaries and terms of how the “going back-to-school” period will work best, then cheers to you for a great partnership!

The key to success is creating a plan with your spouse so that neither of you feels overwhelmed or believes you are taking on the bulk of financial or household responsibility. Both spouses should have equal buy-in and feel a sense of partnership in the “education plan” for moving forward.