Divorced parents in New Jersey have an obligation to contribute to their children’s college expenses. On the other hand, married parents in New Jersey do not have the same obligation.
The case of Newburgh v. Arrigo provides a list of factors for a court to consider in assessing the obligation of the parents. This case is the cornerstone of any college contribution analysis. In evaluating the claim for contribution toward the cost of higher education, courts will consider the following factors.
College Contribution Factors
- Whether the parent, if still living with the child, would have contributed toward the costs of the requested higher education;
- The effect of the background values and goals of the parent on the reasonableness of the expectation of the child for higher education;
- The amount of the contribution sought by the child for the cost of higher education;
- The ability of the parent to pay that cost;
- The relationship of the requested contribution to the kind of school or course of study sought by the child;
- The financial resources of both parents;
- The commitment to and aptitude of the child for the requested education;
- The financial resources of the child, including assets owned individually or held in custodianship or trust;
- The ability of the child to earn income during the school year or on vacation;
- The availability of financial aid in the form of college grants and loans;
- The child’s relationship to the paying parent, including mutual affection and shared goals as well as responsiveness to parental advice and guidance; and
- The relationship of the education requested to any prior training and to the overall long-range goals of the child.
Once a court weighs and balances the factors of each case, the court may order each parent to pay a certain percentage of college costs. College costs can include preparation courses, application fees, school visits, a computer, transportation to and from school on breaks. Obviously, the customary expenses of tuition, room, board and school fees are included.
Issues such as should the children take out loans or be allowed to attend Princeton over Rutgers can also be decided by a judge. It is, however, much more prudent to spell out these very important details in your divorce agreement. This agreement is your Property Settlement Agreement or Marital Settlement Agreement.
Absent some legally recognizable change in circumstances, the provisions of your Property Settlement Agreement will govern each parent’s obligation towards college and will be enforced by the court.
If your agreement does not address college contribution, and the issue is not settled between the parents through their respective attorneys or a mediator, you will need to have the issue decided by the court and same will be addressed considering the 12 factors enumerated above.
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