College Contribution in Oradell
Child support and contribution to college expenses are two discrete, yet related obligations imposed on divorcing parents. It has been held that the support needs of a child include the responsibility of providing a proper education—and the court has great discretion in compelling a parent to pay in this regard.
The leading New Jersey case on college contribution is Newburgh v. Arrigo, 88 N.J. 529 (1982). In Newburgh, the Court provided several factors that a judge should consider in evaluating a claim for contribution toward college expenses:
- Whether the parent, if still living with the child, would have contributed toward the costs of the requested higher education
- The effect of the background values and goals of the parent on the reasonableness of the expectation of the child for higher education
- The amount of the contribution sought by the child for the cost of higher education
- The ability of the parent to pay that cost
- The relationship of the requested contribution to the kind of school or course of study sought by the child
- The financial resources of both parents
- The commitment to and aptitude of the child for the requested education
- The financial resources of the child, including assets owned individually or held in custodianship or trust
- The ability of the child to earn income during the school year or on vacation
- The availability of financial aid in the form of college grants and loans
- The child’s relationship to the paying parent, including mutual affection and shared goals as well as responsiveness to parental advice and guidance and
- The relationship of the education requested to any prior training and to the overall long-range goals of the child.
Nebel v. Nebel, 103 N.J. Super. 216 (App. Div. 1968) is the first case in New Jersey to establish the Court’s authority to compel a divorcing parent to contribute to children’s college expenses. In Nebel, however, the Court limited the father’s contribution to the cost of attendance at a state school, specifically Rutgers. This became known as the “Rutgers Rule.”
Following Nebel, the New Jersey court clarified the “Rutgers Rule” to hold that when parents are financially capable, they may be compelled to contribute to the cost of a private or out-of-state school. Finger v. Zenn, 335 N.J. Super. 438 (App. Div. 2000).
New Jersey courts have excused parents from their obligation toward their children’s college expenses, but it depends on the circumstances. In Gac v. Gac, 186 N.J. 535 (2006), the father was not determined to be responsible to contribute toward the cost of his estranged daughter’s higher education. While the court clearly reinforced that a relationship between the parent and child was not necessary for the court to order that the estranged parent pay for higher education, in this case the parent was relieved of his obligation because he was never asked to pay for college until after the expense had been incurred and he was never consulted about his daughter’s decisions to pursue higher education.
The Gac case provides some general guidelines to consider in your college contribution case: 1) a child or his/her parent should make the request of the noncustodial parent for contribution before incurring college debt 2) the parent or child should discuss with the other parent the choice to pursue higher education and 3) the issue should be brought before the court prior to incurring the debt.
In 2014, the chancery division case of Black v. Black, 436 N.J. Super. 130 (Ch. Div. 2013) again dealt with this issue of estrangement as a consideration in a college contribution case. The court noted its concern that a parent cannot escape paying for college by intentionally avoiding any relationship with their child. In this case, however, it was the child who did not want a relationship with the father. Noting that the parents had previously agreed that father and son would attend counseling together so that they could work on their relationship, and that they did not in fact attend counseling sessions, the court ordered that the father’s contribution toward his son’s college was contingent on the son’s obligation to attend joint counseling sessions with his father. The court indicated that a child’s refusal to participate in therapy may result in the suspension or complete termination of the father’s obligation to contribute towards that child’s college education.
If you have questions about college contribution, you may need the guidance of an experienced family law attorney. Contact The Law Office of Joseph A. DiPiazza, LLC at (201) 597-0065 to schedule a legal consultation.
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