Who Pays for College Expenses

Who is Responsible for a Child's College Expenses in Divorce?

It is summertime. Children are enjoying the weather as they forget about school and homework.  High school graduates are focusing on one of their biggest transitions:  College.

For divorcing or divorced parents, the issues are numerous and complex. Who will pay the child's tuition, room and board, and other expenses?  How will the child's college's expenses be paid? Who helps the child decide on which college?

The Current Law

In 1982, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that divorced parents may have an obligation to support their college bound children. The case was Newburgh v. Arrigo.  In Newburgh,  the Court listed twelve factors which judges should consider when determining if a divorced parent should pay college expenses, and if so, how much.  

The question of how much a parent may be obligated is dependent upon the situation of each parent.  In 2006, the Supreme Court ruled in the case Gac v. Gac that a father did not have to contribute to the college loans of his estranged daughter. The Court stated that the parent or child who seeks contribution for college should make that request before the expenses are incurred.

Of course, separating or separated parents can negotiate and agree to pay for college expenses. Their agreement would be spelled out in a marital settlement agreement or a consent order.

Who Decides Which College?

The Newburgh case factors are an attempt by the Court to analyze what the family would have done if they were still an intact unit. If both parents retain legal custody, the decision may be made by both parents and the child.

Child Support for the College Bound Child

The obligation to pay child support continues through college years in New Jersey. However it may be adjusted, especially, if the child moves away from home to attend college. 

According to the Appendix IX-A to the Child Support Guidelines, the child support award consists of housing, feeding and clothing a child as well as others expenses. If parents are paying for college room and board, then an adjustment to the child support award should be made.  Otherwise, a parent paying child support may be paying housing twice.

Parties may agree to pay child support while the children are at home and for example, attending a community college. If the child attends college while living at home, then the parties could still use the Child Support Guidelines to determine the amount of the support.  This is permissible under the Child Support Guidelines because the support contemplates those housing and food expenses for a child.  However, child support payments would not substitute for a parent's obligation to pay college tuition and related expenses.

Commitments by the Divorcing Parents

Divorced parents frequently have agreed to pay a percentage of college costs, perhaps after scholarships, grants and loans. Years later, given the job market and increasing college costs, this percentage may be something a parent can no longer afford. Today's divorcing parents need to be mindful of their present financial situation as wall as their potential future financial situation.  

Couples in divorce with young children may want to consider specific language in their agreement which requires them to share financial information at the time when their child applies for college in order to determine a fair and equitable amount for their respective college contribution. They may include language in an agreement that requires the college bound child to fulfill minimum grades on a full time basis.

Divorced parents of older children may want to agree to contribute based on their relative incomes when their children attend college. They may want to discuss options such as a two year community college and then a transfer to a four year institution.

Methods of Resolving College Issues

As always, a settlement is preferable to litigation when it can be achieved. Collaborative resolutions, mediated agreements, and negotiated settlements can be achieved by the parties with the assistance of attorneys and other professionals.

The attorneys at Maleski Eisenhut & Zielinski, LLC can help you sort out the issues and arrive at a fair resolution.  We'll work to determine the best and most effective cost process for your particular situation and your child's college expenses.  Come in for a consultation or more information we'll be glad to help, just contact us online or call us at 908-237-9711.