Raising children is very expensive. It is well settled that non-custodial parents have an obligation to support their minor children until their emancipation though the payment of child support. However, what responsibility, if any, does a parent have towards their children’s college education? In the absence of a prior agreement between the parenting New Jersey Law states that a part of a parent’s financial responsibility for the upbringing of a child is the payment of educational expenses. N.J. Dist. Kiwanis v. Gandhi, 284 N.J.Super. 102, 106 (Law Div. 1994) aff’d 284 N.J.Super. 64 (App. Div. 1995). Financially capable parents should contribute to the higher education of children who are qualified students. In appropriate circumstances, parental responsibility includes the duty to assure children of a college education and even of a post-graduate education such as law school. Newburgh v. Arrigo, 88 N.J. 529 (1982).
In Limpert v. Limpert, 119 N.J.Super. 438 (App. Div. 1972) the court decided that where the ability of the child is in doubt as to his likelihood of success in undergraduate school, the parents, where they cannot afford such additional expense, will not be forced to contribute to such expenses but normal child support obligation will continue until completion of undergraduate studies. Parties to a divorce may bargain as to each parties’ contribution to college expenses but may not bargain away the child’s right to contribution from each parent. Blum v. Ader, 279 N.J.Super. 1 (App. Div. 1994). The payment can be made directly to the unemancipated child, to the custodial parent or directly to the school. Id. “However, Newburgh does not require that level of support and concomitant deferred emancipation for a child unable to perform adequately in his academic program.” Filippone v. Lee, 304 N.J. Super. 301, 311-12 (App. Div. 1997).
In Newburgh v. Arrigo, supra, 88 N.J. at 545, the court list several factors which are to be taken into account for the determination of a parent’s obligation for college expenses. In evaluating the claim for contribution toward the cost of higher education, courts should consider all relevant factors, including (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. In the Gotlib case the court reiterated that the noncustodial parent should be consulted prior to college costs being incurred if the custodial parent wants the noncustodial parent to contribute towards costs. Gotlib, 399 N.J. Super. 295 (App. Div. 2008).
A plenary hearing is usually needed to establish the contribution of each party towards the college education expenses of a child. The enforcement of the parental obligation for college costs can be brought by the child or on behalf of the child. Then the Newburgh factors are then applied in a plenary hearing setting. Johnson v. Bradbury, 233 N.J. Super. 129 (1989). If you have questions concerning you or your ex-spouse’s obligation towards the college expenses of your child, please contact our offices today to set up an appointment.