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College Costs in a Divorce Settlement

Many parents seeking a New Jersey divorce have issues surrounding children to address. Among these issues may be dealing with the costs of college for a child or children. There are a number of factors to bear in mind when it comes to college costs in a divorce settlement or divorce judgment. These include:

  • Agreement of parents regarding higher education expenses
  • Preservation of an existing college fund
  • New Jersey courts and higher education expenses
Agreement of Parents Regarding College Costs in a Divorce Settlement

The easiest way to address college expenses in marriage dissolution proceedings is via a voluntarily agreed divorce settlement. In other words, the parties to a divorce mutually agree to the manner in which they will contribute to the post-secondary education of their child or children once a marriage comes to an end. In some instances, if a divorcing couple undertakes mediation, this is precisely the type of issue that can be explored and addressed in that alternative dispute resolution process.

Preservation of Existing College Fund Account

If a college fund is already in place for a child or children, a common practice is for that fund to be preserved for the benefit of a child when the need to pay college expenses arises. A parent or both parents may agree to contribute into the fund following the end of a marriage. If the parents cannot agree as to how the fund will be used in the future or whether contributions will continue after the marriage ends, the court can be called upon to address the matter. More information on the involvement of the court follows.

New Jersey Courts, Divorce, and College Costs

If parents cannot reach a divorce settlement between themselves in regard to college or university expenses for a child or children, the matter can be brought before a judge. There is a general view among New Jersey courts today that college education can be a necessity. There is a discernible trend in New Jersey courts in which parents are obliged to assist in paying at least some college costs for children.

A court considers the specific facts and circumstances in a particular case when it comes to addressing the matter of whether a divorce decree provision will address college or university expenses for a child or children. Some of the more commonly utilized factors used by a court in considering whether college expense should be included in a more global child support order include:

  • Overall financial status of parents
  • Would parents have contributed to the costs of a child’s college or university education if the marriage had continued?
  • Consideration of any existing idea of what plans might already exist regarding higher education
  • Commitment of a child to attain a post-secondary education
  • Existing funds already set aside to assist in paying for college or university expenses
  • Projected availability of student loans or grants
  • Relationship between parents and child including:
    • Mutual affection
    • Shared goals
    • Response to parental guidance
  • Understanding of existing overall long-range goals of a child

If parents are unable to reach a settlement between themselves regarding college education funding, the court can schedule a hearing on the matter. In New Jersey, this is sometimes referred to as what is known as a plenary hearing. It is a full hearing at which parties will present evidence on the issue of including college expenses into a final divorce decree.

As part of preparing for such a hearing, a court typically requires the completion of a Case Information Sheet by each parent. This document, presented to the court and exchanged between parties, includes a listing of all assets. After considering all evidence presented, a judge makes a decision regarding whether and how college expenses will be included in a divorce decree.

Protecting Your Legal Rights in a New Jersey Marriage Dissolution Case

The first step in preparing for a divorce is to consider retaining an experienced, tenacious New Jersey divorce attorney, like a member of the committed legal team at Law Offices of Peter Van Aulen. We can schedule a no-cost and no-obligation case evaluation and initial consultation with you at your convenience by us at (201) 845-7400.

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