College Expenses and Child Support in New Jersey After Divorce
When determining whether continued financial support for children attending college and/or parental contributions to college education are appropriate, the Court is to consider relevant case law and statutes, and to use the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines if appropriate. The computation of child support can never be made in a vacuum as there is a close relationship between college costs and child support: that is, the higher the child support order, the less money remains available to contribute to college expenses. Another component impacting this child support calculus considers what portion of the expenses, if any, the student must be responsible to bear. Of necessity, many students share the financial burden of meeting expenses by utilizing savings, summer wages, co-op jobs, work study payments, or part-time employment. In many cases, it also may be more appropriate for a parent to provide direct payments to the student for some of the child’s support needs rather than providing payments to the other parent in the form of child support.
The leading case in the State of New Jersey with regard to college expenses and child support is Newburgh v. Arrigo. Writing for the Court in Newburgh, Justice Pollock set forth a non-exhaustive list of twelve factors a court should consider in evaluating a claim for contribution toward the cost of higher education. The enumerated factors are: (1) whether the parent, if still living with the child, would have contributed toward the costs of the requested higher education; (2) the effect of the background, values and goals of the parent on the reasonableness of the expectation of the child for higher education; (3) the amount of the contribution sought by the child for the cost of higher education; (4) the ability of the parent to pay that cost; (5) the relationship of the requested contribution to the kind of school or course of study sought by the child; (6) the financial resources of both parents; (7) the commitment to and aptitude of the child for the requested education; (8) the financial resources of the child, including assets owned individually or held in custodianship or trust; (9) the ability of the child to earn income during the school year or on vacation; (10) the availability of financial aid in the form of college grants and loans; (11) the child’s relationship to the paying parent, including mutual affection and shared goals as well as responsiveness to parental advice and guidance; and (12) the relationship of the education requested to any prior training and to the overall long-range goals of the child. Six years after Newburgh was decided, the New Jersey State Legislature essentially approved those criteria when amending the child support statute, N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(a). Thus, a trial court should, when deciding whether child support is appropriate for an adult child attending college, balance the statutory criteria of N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(a) and the Newburgh factors, as well as any other relevant circumstances, to reach a fair and just decision whether and, if so, in what amount, a parent or parents must contribute to a child’s educational expenses. Each case must be decided upon its own merits and with close scrutiny of all relevant factors.
Further complicating this analysis is the fact that where child support in the State of New Jersey is almost exclusively calculated using the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines, the Guidelines are only intended to apply to children who are less than 18 years of age or who are more than 18 years of age but still attending high school or a similar secondary educational institution. The Guidelines are not intended to apply to adult children attending college and living away from home, as such children have been largely deemed to have “move beyond the sphere of parental influence and dependence.” However, the Guidelines may be applied, in the court’s discretion, to provide support for students over 18 years of age who commute to college.
So what can we say with certainty about child support orders pertaining to adult children who are attending college and about required contributions to the college expenses of your adult child and how these two obligations relate to one another? Well, the Court may very well choose to utilize the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines to calculate a parent’s child support obligation with regard to a child who is living at home but attending college full time. The law states clearly that the Guidelines may not be used to determine a child support amount for that same child should he or she be attending college full time but no longer living at home. This does not mean, however, that there will necessarily be no support obligation in such a situation, it simply means that use of the Guidelines to set such an obligation would be incorrect. Divorced parents of adult children will generally be held to have a duty to contribute to the college costs and expenses of their adult children and that these contributions will be determined after analysis of a long list of factors. Lastly, and most importantly, we can say that this is a complicated analysis and that in making the analysis, it is easy for the Court or even the parties involved to miss a factor which would have greatly altered the final decision. Our diligence helps make sure that our Clients receive their fair share of support for their children and the future their children are building upon the foundation of a college education.
We have locations in Camden, Burlington, and Gloucester counties, and are happy to discuss your legal options. Call us anytime at 856-227-7888 or email [email protected] for a free consultation on this or any other family law-related issue. We’re here to help.