Will I have to pay for my children’s college expenses? Will my former spouse have an obligation to pay? What if neither of us can afford to send our child to college?
These questions are commonplace in nearly every divorce matter involving children, and for that reason, it is important for divorcing couples to have an understanding of the basic law underlying college contribution in New Jersey. This is the first in a series of articles aimed at addressing this law.
Often times, especially in those cases where a child is very close to college age, the parties to a divorce specifically address in their settlement agreements how they will handle college contribution. They may agree that one parent will be responsible for the entire tuition and all related expenses. They may decide to share the costs equally or, alternatively, in proportion to their incomes. Others may agree that neither parent has a responsibility to pay for college.
In other cases, however, the children may be young, and college attendance is many years away. The parties do not know where their children will want to attend college, how high the costs of tuition will rise, or what their financial situations will look like when their children are ready to apply to schools. In such circumstances, the parties may agree that when the time comes for a child to head off to college, they will address the issue at that time, and if they are unsuccessful at reaching an agreement, will resolve the issue in accordance with New Jersey law.
So what does New Jersey law currently say about college expenses?
The case of Newburgh v. Arrigo is the seminal case in New Jersey regarding college contribution, and provides that “…in appropriate circumstances, the privilege of parenthood carries with it the duty to assure a necessary education for children.” Newburgh v. Arrigo, 88 N.J. 529, 543 (1982). While the concept of a “necessary education” has been treated with flexibility by various courts in New Jersey, Newburgh states that where a parent is financially capable, that parent should generally contribute to the higher education expenses of his or her unemancipated child – who must also be a qualified student. Id. at 543-44.
In evaluating a party’s motion for contribution toward higher education costs, a court must review and analyze twelve specific factors. These factors are:
- Whether the parent, if still living with the child, would have contributed toward the costs of the requested higher education;
- The effect of the background, values and goals of the parent on the reasonableness of the expectation of the child for higher education;
- The amount of the contribution sought by the child for the cost of higher education;
- The ability of the parent to pay that cost;
- The relationship of the requested contribution to the kind of school or course of study sought by the child;
- The financial resources of both parents;
- The commitment to and aptitude of the child for the requested education;
- The financial resources of the child, including assets owned individually or held in custodianship or trust;
- The ability of the child to earn income during the school year or on vacation;
- The availability of financial aid in the form of college grants and loans;
- The child’s relationship to the paying parent, including mutual affection and shared goals as well as responsiveness to parental advice and guidance; and
- The relationship of the education requested to any prior training and to the overall long-range goals of the child.
Id. at 545.
Each case is fact sensitive, and the parties should provide all the information necessary for the court to analyze these factors in light of the facts of each case. Some courts may choose to weigh particular factors more than others, but it is a total analysis of all twelve factors which will ultimately guide the Court’s decision as to each party’s responsibility for payment of college expenses.
Very frequently, however, a Court will not be able to make a decision based on the submitted paperwork alone. In such cases, the Court will hold a hearing in order to take testimony from the parties and examine the evidence relating to the Newburgh factors provided by each party. Once the hearing is complete, the Court will render a decision as to each party’s responsibility for the payment of college expenses.
All of the attorneys at Paras, Apy & Reiss, P.C. have significant experience in addressing issues relating to college contribution. We are happy to help guide you in any way we can.
The information in this article is not intended as legal advice. For legal advice, you should consult your attorney.