New Jersey courts typically view college education as a necessity, and there is a trend in favor of requiring financially capable parents to contribute. College expenses can also encompass more than just tuition, room and board, and can even include transportation expenses, the cost of a computer and setting up the child’s room at school. Whether a court will require a parent to pay for a child’s college education, however, is a fact sensitive issue. If children are young at the time of the divorce, it is likely that the parties’ Settlement Agreement will not address payment for college and, instead, the agreement will simply provide a mechanism for negotiations during each child’s junior year of high school.
The preeminent case on this issue is Newburgh v. Arrigo, 88 N.J. 529 (1982). In Newburgh, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that the parental duty to provide an education to children extends to the responsibility to provide a college education. New Jersey is only one of a handful of states that require divorced parents to contribute toward their children’s college education. Unlike calculating child support, there is no easy way or formula for calculating each parent’s contribution. The Court must weigh the following twelve 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;
- The relationship of the education requested to any prior training and to the overall long-range goals of the child.
Although not expressly stated in the case law, the factor weighed most heavily is the parents’ ability to pay for college costs. New Jersey Courts typically require financially capable parents to contribute toward their children’s educational expenses. If there is a dispute as to who pays for college, the Court will schedule a hearing on the issue. The parties then exchange pertinent financial information, and the court holds a trial and listen to the proofs and testimony presented. The Court then determines each parent’s contribution towards their child’s college expenses.
Instead of going to Court, you and your attorney may decide to enter into an Agreement with your former spouse regarding who pays for college, and how much each party contributes. Also, you may decide to go to a mutually agreeable mediator to resolve your dispute without Court intervention. Whichever path you choose, you should work closely with your family law attorney to determine the best option for your family.
Erin B. Schneiderman is a New Jersey divorce lawyer with the firm of Weinberger Divorce & Family Law Group,LLC. in Parsippany, New Jersey, where she practices family and matrimonial law.