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New Jersey Divorce Law: Obligation to pay for Child’s College Education Part 1

By: Attorney Nicole J. Huckerby
The Criteria Considered By The Family Court To Determine The Obligation Of A Divorced Parent To Contribute To The Cost Of A Child’s College Education

This is the first of two articles that address a divorced parent’s obligation to contribute to the cost of a child’s college education. This first article discusses the subject matter generally. The second will examine the impact of a damaged relationship between a college aged student and a parent. Most of the time, these issues arise in the context of a non-custodial parent’s obligation to contribute.

New Jersey divorce law has long held that a divorced parent may be required to contribute towards the cost of a child’s college education. In determining the extent of a parent’s obligation to contribute to college costs when the parties have not previously agreed on specific amounts, family courts in New Jersey generally consider the following criteria established in 1983 by our Supreme Court in a case called Newburgh v. Arrigo:

1.    Whether the parent, if still living with the child, would have contributed towards the costs of college;

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 college;

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;

9.     The ability of the child to earn income during the school year or vacation;

10.  The availability of financial aid in the form of grants and loans;

11. The child’s relationship to the paying parent. Including mutual affections 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.

The above factors are comprehensive, but may not be exhaustive.  Family finances often expand or limit college options. Regarding the child’s college selection, the family court has the power to order a non-custodial parent to financially contribute to college costs in an amount exceeding the costs of attendance at Rutgers or one of New Jersey’s other state universities and colleges. For example, where a non-custodial father encouraged his son to apply to George Washington University [“GWU”], was a dentist with significant income, and attended an expensive out of state university himself, the court rejected the father’s argument that his contribution to the GWU tuition of his son should be limited to what he would pay if the child attended Rutgers.  

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