It’s been said many times. Divorce doesn’t just impact husbands and wives – or mothers and fathers. Parents sometimes blame poor relationships with their children on one another. However, the problem may have nothing to do with parental alienation. Could you find yourself stuck paying for college for a child who won’t speak to you?
Many parents appear surprised when confronted with the prospect of paying college tuition in the first place. After all, they wouldn’t face that same obligation if they didn’t end their marriage. However, New Jersey law addresses what happens when parents divorce and their children seek post-secondary education.
In determining how much you’ll need to contribute to your child’s education, the court considers twelve basic factors. Among them includes your ability to pay, as well as your relationship with your child.
More specifically, the New Jersey Supreme Court includes in its analysis what it refers to as “mutual affection and shared goals, as well as responsiveness to parental advice and guidance.”
With that said, you might wonder why you need to pay for college for a child who won’t speak to you. In fact, the issue came up in a recent unpublished court decision.
Father Wanted to Stop Paying for College
In a case decided by the New Jersey Appellate Division late last month, the father said he wanted to stop paying for college. According to him, his daughter refused to communicate with him. The father also blamed his former wife for causing the break in their relationship.
According to the case history, the mother and father divorced in 2011. Three years later, their son was already emancipated. During that same year, their daughter started college.
The property settlement agreement (PSA) became part of the dual judgment of divorce entered by the judge. Notably, it included language regarding the payment of college expenses. More specifically, the PSA contained the order in which funding would be obtained. Broken down into four parts, the last segment called upon the parents to contribute according to their ability to pay.
In September 2016, the father filed papers with the court to terminate child support as well as his obligation to pay for his daughter’s college expenses. In support of his application, the father claimed that the issues started in 2015. At that time, the father said his daughter made “vile and vulgar comments about him.” Additionally, he alleged that his daughter ignored his attempts at communicating with her.
The mother objected to the father’s application, saying that her ex-husband’s income was double hers. Their daughter was a third-year engineering student with excellent grades. Although her college expenses were substantially lessened by scholarships and grants, quite a bit was still outstanding.
Remarkably, this wasn’t the first time the parties went to court on the support issue. In 2014, the court emancipated the son and also ordered the father and daughter to attend counseling sessions.
Daughter Had a Different Version of Events
As far as the mother was concerned, the father himself created the strain in the relationship. Although the father said the daughter stopped their joint counseling sessions, the daughter said otherwise. The counselor said it was up to the daughter to continue the sessions and said they weren’t necessary.
The daughter disagreed with her father’s allegations that she refused to communicate with him. In fact, she referenced a Christmas dinner in 2015. Additionally, the daughter spoke about a text message in 2016. She viewed their relationship as “broken…but not destroyed.”
As the story further unfolded, the father was upset that he wasn’t involved in his daughter’s choice of colleges. And, the parties’ son took the father’s side, confirming that his sister “spurned” his communication attempts. Nevertheless, the court ruled that the father needed to continue to pay child support and his share of tuition.
Consequently, the father objected, saying that the court failed to evaluate all of the factors contained in the Newburgh case. According to the father, the judge only considered the first question. If the family was intact, the father would not have contributed to college expenses.
The lower court decided that the PSA acted to provide the provisions for payment of tuition. That said, the Appellate Court found that the trial court should have conducted a hearing. Notably, this should have occurred after counseling – but never did.
In acknowledging that the father and daughter had two different versions of their relationship, the appeals court referred the case back for a hearing. At that time, all of the factors under Newburgh would be evaluated.
Some family court matters continue even after the divorce papers are signed. If you are in need of legal representation for a post-judgment matter, the Law Offices of Sam Stoia can help. Give us a call to schedule an appointment.