Contributions Towards College 1

When finalizing a divorce, it is imperative that the parties address the issue of contributions towards their children’s college expenses. The standard approach is to structure the parties’ Property Settlement Agreement to divide each party’s contribution in proportion to their respective income at the time the child enters college. This approach was established by the Supreme Court of New Jersey in Newburgh v. Arrigo, 88 N.J. 529 (1982), which directed trial courts to examine the following twelve (12) factors in making a determination as to college contributions:

1. Whether the parent, if still living with the child, would have contributed towards 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.

One of the factors to be examined by trial courts is the child’s relationship to the paying parent and his/her responsiveness to parental guidance. Parents – more often, the non-custodial parent – often find themselves in the difficult position of paying for college, but not being consulted on major educational decisions, or having information regarding college withheld.

At least one court in New Jersey held that both the student and the custodial parent each have a responsibility and obligation to make certain that the non-custodial parent is provided with ongoing proof of the student’s college enrollment, course credits, and grades. The court in Van Brunt v. Van Brunt, 419 N.J. Super. 327 (Ch. Div. 2010), held that a divorced parent funding a child’s college education can demand the student’s academic records as a condition of payment. The judge held that a child who demands financial contribution from her parents logically has a reciprocal obligation to provide basic information concerning college attendance and performance. The court further held that should the child and the custodial parent fail to keep the non-custodial parent apprised and informed, the non-custodial parent would be permitted to file an application for the child’s emancipation.

If you believe that you are not being kept informed of your child’s educational status and college performance, it is important that you seek legal counsel to determine your rights. [Posted by Jenny Birz, Esq.]