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Child Support for College Students

With so many headlines lamenting the student loan crisis in this country, it cannot come as a surprise that the costs of providing a college education for one's children is a major point of contention in divorce cases. Understanding NJ child support guidelines for college students can go a long way in managing your expectations during a family lawsuit.

New Jersey is one of only a handful of states that requires parents to continue paying support to enable their children to attend college. A well-established case, Newburgh v Arrigo, set the precedent that a child has the right to support when engaged in ‘necessary education' after high school, which could include college or other vocational training.

But the courts recognize that child support is a different sort of contribution than paying expenses for college. Child support guidelines help determine the amount of support a parent needs to pay during the age of minority for the children. Usually, it is based on each party's incomes, parenting time, medical insurance, and child care. But when it comes to paying for support after the child turns 18 and no longer commutes to college, but lives there, the guidelines are do not apply.

This situation was explicitly addressed in the court case, Jacoby v. Jacoby. The parties had agreed in the original divorce that the father would pay for part of their son's college education. However, at some point during his tuition, the son stopped living with his mother. The father filed a request to modify child support based on a change in circumstances. His request was approved for their first son. When their second son began attending college, the father made the same request, but this time, his ex-wife appealed. The appellate court agreed with her, holding that expenses associated with raising a child may decrease once the child attend college, (such as the child being entitled to a meal plan), other costs will increase, such as tuition and books. The court held that payments to support the child during college should not be governed by the general Child Support guidelines because many of the expenses associated with a college education are not those contemplated within the Guidelines. The judge can also determine the child's contribution to their expenses. It is not unusual for college students to get a part-time job or participate in work-study programs. The guidelines do not account for this possibility. Additionally, the court considered the possibility that it may be more appropriate for the parent to make a payment to the child directly, rather than to the other parent, as would be required under the Guidelines.

If the parties are unable to agree on the issue of child support beyond secondary school, then a judge might have to decide. If so, the court in Jacoby stated that judges needed to specifically list out the reasons why support for a college student living away from home should be calculated in accordance with the Guidelines. Therefore, while it seems courts do have the freedom to use the Guidelines for college students, such a situation would be unusual, and would need to be explicitly justified by a judge.

Since the Jacoby decision, there have been a few cases where courts have utilized a formulaic approach in determining child support college students. This can be tempting, as it provides stability, certainty and is clear-cut. However, the courts to engage in an analysis of twelve factors when not bound by the Guidelines, as established by the Newburgh court. These factors include whether and how much the parent would have given to the expenses if the family had not been separated, the costs of higher education sought by the child; the ability of the parent to pay; the availability of financial aid and the ability of the child to earn income. By using these factors, courts have the freedom to create a child support order that is appropriate for each situation. However, it does provide some uncertainty to parents who are litigating over the amount of support each should pay for their child's university education.

While the rationale of the Jacoby case is interesting, it does not provide any black and white rules in understanding NJ child support guidelines for college students. And of the Newburgh factors is useful, but they are, by design, quite broad and fact-sensitive.

If you need help with understanding NJ child support guidelines for college students, then contact the Law Offices of Peter Van Aulen for a free initial consultation today, at 201–845–7400.

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