After seeing my Grandparents and 529s article, a reader sent me a link to WhyPayTuition.com, which is a matchmaking site that promotes the idea of getting a “convenience” marriage solely for the purpose of reducing your tuition bill:
The easiest way to obtain free tuition is to get out from under your parents financial umbrella, and fall into the college’s low-income aid category. Most colleges offer free tuition, reduced tuition and reduced fees. [...]
The idea is to get married, remain married for the duration of your college years, then get a non-contested, no property divorce. The girl will keep her last name, you live separate lives, and no one will need to know you are married.
As long as both parties are US citizens, there appears to be nothing illegal about this. Certainly it seems a bit overboard, but so is giving any 18-year old with zero income the ability to take out $200,000 in loans. This NY Times article mentions several student-couples who have saved $50,000 or more by getting married and qualifying for in-state tuition:
Economically, in-state students have a huge advantage over non-Californians, for whom tuition costs an additional $22,000 a year (as of 2010-11). [...]
A few years ago, a student from the Midwest believed she could not afford the annual $30,000 in student fees (including $20,000 in out-of-state tuition), so she posted on Facebook that she was looking for a husband. [...] An out-of-state student whom she did not know responded to her post, and they married in 2007, the summer before her junior year. She graduated in 2009 and estimated that the marriage had saved her $50,000. The couple has divorced.
But being married has many potential pitfalls. This WalletPop article gets some opinions from a divorce lawyer:
“If you’re someone who is jumping through these hoops to save money going to college, at least be smart enough to get a prenuptial agreement,” he said.
Potential problems in not getting a prenuptual agreement, in addition to having to share earnings for life, include being responsible for the spouse’s debt and other issues that married couples face, such as inheritance if one person dies.
I know of people getting married for health insurance reasons, which outlines another societal problem. As the college tuition bubble also continues to grow, I expect more and more stories like this to pop up.