With college costs and student debt rising, young Americans are graduating from college with more debt than ever before. In fact, the average college graduate in 2015 had a student loan debt of approximately $35,000 on their shoulders, according to Edvisors. In addition, nearly 71% of graduates who earn a bachelor’s degree will have some form of student loan, which is double the amount when compared with 20 years ago.
Many parents attempt to cover some or all of their child’s college expenses to help them avoid being weighed down by a sizable financial burden as they embark upon their professional journey. However, this scenario can also present a significant challenge to parents, as they attempt to balance the expenses of everyday life for themselves and their families with the tens, or even hundreds, of thousands of dollars that American universities demand as the price of admission. Divorce can further compound this issue, as courts determine both the payer and recipient of child support, as well as the potential changes to these payments when the child enters college.
In New Jersey, child support is calculated based on a set formula contained within the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines. Although these calculations are rather concrete, they become far more nuanced when the child reaches college age. In fact, several precedential cases in New Jersey have laid the groundwork for future decisions involving child support during college. One such case, Jacoby v. Jacoby, was brought before the New Jersey Superior Court Appellate Division after a father petitioned the court to lower his child support obligation when his child entered college. In the initial divorce decree, Mr. Jacoby had agreed to pay for part of his son’s college education; however, he asked to have his child support payments reduced based on the argument that the child was no longer living at his mother’s home most of the time.
In his first petition, Mr. Jacoby was granted a reduction. However, when his second son went to college and Mr. Jacoby made the same request, his ex-wife appealed the decision. The NJ Superior Court Appellate Division affirmed her appeal, determining that although the expenses associated with college change (for instance, lesser costs for room and board or food if the child has a meal plan), other expenses for necessary educational expenses may increase. Consider the costs of tuition, registration fees, books, laptops, notepads, etc. Ultimately, the court ruled that child support during college should not be subject to the general Child Support Guidelines that govern child support decisions earlier in the child’s life.
This area remains a highly contentious issue among many divorced parents, and although the courts have provided guidance, there is no hard and fast rule that is applicable to every case. In some divorces, parents can reach an agreement about college and child support during divorce negotiations, which paves the way for a more seamless transition when the time comes. Other times, it is necessary to pursue modifications through the courts to ensure that you are paying or receiving the appropriate amount when your child enters college. At Townsend, Tomaio & Newmark, our skilled New Jersey divorce and family lawyers assist clients with child support matters both during and after divorce. Contact our Morris County offices anytime at 862-242-3987 for a cost-free consultation about your current situation.