AM I REQUIRED TO PAY FOR MY CHILD’S COLLEGE EDUCATION?

As a parent, you are not required under New Jersey law to pay for your child’s college education – that is, until you divorce or separate from your spouse or child’s other parent. In some cases, one parent will ask the court to order the other parent to contribute toward a child’s college tuition and related expenses. According to the ruling in the New Jersey Supreme Court case of Newburgh v. Arrigo, 88 N.J. 529 (1982), while a parent remaining in an intact marriage or relationship has no obligation to pay for a child’s college expenses, that same parent may be court-ordered to do so if the marriage or relationship fails.

Fortunately, there is very recent guidance on the issue of a parent’s obligation to pay a child’s college expenses. In 2017, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, ruled in the case of Ricci v. Ricci, 2017 N.J. Super. (App.Div. Feb. 9, 2017). This case involved a young woman who sued her divorced parents for the payment of her college tuition and expenses. Due to difficulties with each parent’s new family, the young woman moved out of her mother’s home at the age of 19 and went to live with her grandmother. She first enrolled in community college and received modest contributions from her parents under the trial court’s order, but soon sought thousands of dollars in college tuition and expenses from her parents so that she could attend a private, out-of-state college. At the time of these decisions, the woman had not spoken with either parent for a period of six months, and made her college plans without any input from either parent.

The parents appealed several aspects of the trial court ruling compelling them to pay significant college expenses for their daughter, and the appeals court reversed the portions of the trial court’s order with respect to the payment of college expenses without a factual basis to support the order. More specifically, the appellate court ruled that the court first must determine whether a child is emancipated; emancipation typically becomes an option when a child turns 18 and leaves the parent’s home, or when the child turns 19, at the latest. The court also noted that in order to be responsible for college costs, the parents must be involved in the college decision-making process and do not exist merely as an “open wallet” for their college-age children. The court then established a two-part analysis for deciding a parent’s obligation to pay college expenses. The court must determine if there are any equitable or other considerations that would go against an order for a parent to pay college costs. The court then will examine whether each parent has the financial ability to contribute to college costs. Obviously, this is an extremely fact-sensitive inquiry that can quickly become very complex.

The family law attorneys at Argentino Family Law & Child Advocacy, LLC, know how to handle all aspects of New Jersey family law cases, whether they involve child support, the payment of college expenses for your child, custody, or other issues altogether. We are here to help and give you the advice that you need. Contact our office by e-mailing us at info@argentinolaw.com or call us at (973) 868-0958 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced family law attorneys today.