For almost all parents, giving your children a good start in life with a college degree is very important. It is extremely expensive, and getting more expensive every year.
It is difficult enough to figure out where your children will go to college, and how to pay for it, when the family is intact. When you are in the middle of a divorce, it becomes much more complicated. You need know what the law is, and what your options are.
The law in New Jersey on who pays for your children’s college expenses, and how, is complicated. Over forty years ago, the New Jersey Supreme Court set out a list if twelve separate factors to use in deciding what legal obligation the parents have to pay for college:
(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.
The case is Newburgh v. Arrigo, 88 N.J. 529 (1982). There have been many court cases since then.
Your child’s academic interests and abilities are extremely important. The ability of each parent to contribute towards college costs is extremely important. This includes how much money both parents are now earning, as well as the assets they have. It is a complicated discussion.
Balancing all of these factors and trying to reach an agreement with your soon-to-be-ex can become a major headache. You will need careful analysis of your situation. You will need expert legal assistance.
Even during a divorce, it will benefit your children enormously if you can have a rational discussion about all of these things. If you cannot, then you will need an attorney to present your case to the Judge, who will then ultimately make a decision on these topics.
One of the questions that I am often asked is “Do I have to pay for college if my child has been alienated from me, does not speak to me and has no relationship with me?”
The short answer is yes but the amount and duration of contribution can be affected by this lack of a relationship. You will need to discuss carefully with your attorney, to see what effect this will have on your obligation to pay towards college expenses.