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Q: I went through a terrible divorce and have racked up well over $100,000 in legal expenses. Though I earn a substantial income, I've had to take money from my 401(k) and get a second mortgage to cover these costs. My oldest son is looking into college, and because I pay so much in alimony and child support, I'm concerned I won't be able to help him pay for it (my ex refuses to help). Because of my income, we probably won't qualify for financial aid, and I live paycheck to paycheck as it is. Any advice?
A: Let this be a lesson to those preparing to walk down the aisle: Yes, you need a prenuptial agreement. If you stay together, great—you will never need to use it. But if you part ways, the agreement will make the dissolution far easier.
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I know this is difficult to accept, but right now, helping your son pay for college is not nearly as important as regaining your financial footing—which is the only way to ensure that you'll be able to continue providing for all your children. So contribute by helping your son plot a realistic college strategy. Suggest that he consider public school. While many private colleges can cost $35,000 or more a year, the average tab for public four-year colleges is under $10,000 a year for in-state residents. Even if you don't qualify for financial aid—and I encourage you to apply anyway—your son can still take out a federal Stafford loan. He can borrow up to $5,500 freshman year and as much as $7,500 junior year. And while you could also borrow through the federal PLUS program, think clearly about your priorities. More debt is not what you need right now. This is the time for you to shake off the bad divorce and focus on improving your long-term financial stability. That's one of the best things you can do for yourself and your children.
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From the February 2011 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine