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Paying for College Post-New Jersey Divorce


This fall, millions of students will resume college courses across the U.S. As CNBC reports, classes are likely to look much different than in years past. With the COVID-19 pandemic, there will likely be fewer in-person classes, more distance learning and fewer students residing on campus in communal dorms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also recommended closing shared spaces (dining halls, gyms, lounges) and the use of cloth masks.

One thing that will not change for many parents is the court-ordered obligation to contribute to covering the costs associated with higher education as part of the marriage settlement agreement.

Generally, parents aren’t under any obligation to support their children after they reach the age of majority. However, New Jersey courts have held there are some circumstances in which “the privilege of parenthood carries with it the duty to assure a necessary education for children.” That can include college.

Divorcing parents with the financial means to contribute can be compelled to do so under certain circumstances. The basic idea is that it’s presumed that most parents want what is best for their kids, and that usually includes a higher education. As our New Brunswick child support attorneys can explain, some of the relevant factors courts should consider in such cases were outlined in the 1982 New Jersey Supreme Court case of Newburgh v. Arrigo, and are referred to as the “Newburgh factors.” These include:

  • Whether the parent, if still living with the child, would have contributed to the asked-for costs of the higher education.
  • The impact of the background, goals and values of the parent on the reasonableness of the expectation of the child for higher education.
  • The amount of contribution sought.
  • The ability of the parent to pay.
  • The relationship of the requested contribution to the kind of school/course of study sought by the child.
  • The financial resources of both parents.
  • The child’s commitment to/aptitude for the course of study.
  • The financial resources of the child (assets held individually or in custodianship/trust)
  • Ability of the child to earn money during school or on summer break.
  • Availability of grants, loans, scholarships, etc. (Note that the FAFSA document required of all students seeking federal or state financial aid factors in the amount the student/family will contribute toward tuition under the Expected Family Contribution. If the cost of college exceeds the EFC, federal student aid might be able to make up the difference. When parents are divorced, it’s the custodial parent who is responsible for filling out the FAFSA. The federal government won’t count income/assets of the non-custodial parent in determining a student’s financial need, but it will factor child support, alimony, etc.)
  • Child’s relationship to the parent who is paying (mutual affection, responsiveness to parental advice/guidance).
  • Relationship of education to overall long-range goals of the child.

Ideally, both parents work together outside of a courtroom to decide on the details of who should fairly cover what to give their child the best start as they embark on adulthood. Oftentimes, disputes over college costs can be resolved through mediation. Occasionally, there may be a need to revisit these issues and post-judgment modifications may be necessary. An experienced child support attorney can help you examine your options and walk you through it.

Contact us at (732) 810-0034 or email us through our website.

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