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College Costs After Divorce and Child Support

By Peter Van Aulen, Esq.

The payment of the high cost of college today is a huge burden for most parents divorced or in an intact family. However, in a divorced or separated family the burden is even greater because the parties are paying for two households in addition to higher education expenses, and one of the parties could be paying child support and/or alimony. Yet, the Courts usually require divorced or separated parents to contribute something to their child’s college education expenses. The irony is that if a couple were not divorced or separated, a court would not force them to contribute to their child’s higher education.

Newburgh Factors and the Allocation of College Costs in NJ

The major case in NJ regard to the obligation and allocation of college costs is Newburgh v. Arrigo, 88 N.J. 529 (1982). The Court in Newburgh stated that a Judge should apply the following factors in determining a parent’s obligation to contribute to a child’s college expenses:

  • Whether a parent, if not separated or divorced, would have contributed to the cost of the child’s requested higher education.
  • The consequence of the values, goals, and background of the parent on the reasonableness of the expectation of the child receiving a higher education.
  • The amount of the contribution requested of the parent by the child.
  • The parent’s ability to pay the requested contribution.
  • If the requested contribution relates to the type of school or course of study desired by the child.
  • Both parties’ financial resources.
  • The child’s commitment to and aptitude for the requested higher education.
  • The financial resources of the child, including any money being held in trust for his or her benefit.
  • The child’s capability to earn income during vacation or the school year.
  • The child’s ability to receive financial aid in the form of loans or grants.
  • The child’s relationship to the parent being asked to contribute. This includes whether there is mutual affection and shared goals between the child and the paying parent and if the child is responsive to the paying parent’s advice and guidance.
  • The relationship of the education requested to any previous training and to the child’s long-term goals.

The child’s relationship with the paying parent is an above stated factor considered by the Courts. Therefore, the child’s estrangement from the paying parent can affect that parent’s obligation to contribute toward higher education expenses. These kinds of situations are fact sensitive and are decided on a case by case basis. Also, a parent could be liable to contribute towards a child’s graduate education, due to the fact that in New Jersey a child is not emancipated at a certain age. I always put in the marital settlement agreement a clause about the division of college expenses. If there is no clause in your agreement, you may still be obligated to contribute to higher education expenses in accordance with the factors stated above.

Does a Parent Paying for College Costs Still Have to pay Child Support in NJ?

The NJ child support guidelines are only intended to be used with children under the age of 18. However, a parent can still have a child support obligation and the Court can still use the NJ child support guidelines if the child is going to college. One of the factors it depends on is if the child is commuting to college and is living at home. In that situation the non custodial parent would have a child support obligation. However, if the child is living away from home and the non-custodial parenting is contributing to the child’s living expenses at college, that parent’s child support obligation could reduce or eliminated. It depends partly on the amount of the contribution to living expenses at college and the finances of the non-custodial parent. If you have any questions about the allocation of college college costs after a divorce in NJ, call Peter Van Aulen today for consultation at 201-845-7400.

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