In an ideal world, the end of a marriage would not change the way mothers and fathers raise children. Among other things, this would include a consensus on things like education. Married couples face no legal requirements to make tuition payments. So, who pays for college when parents divorce?
The answer is one that makes sense to some and infuriates others. For starters, a household split into two changes financial stability for many families. Additionally, not every parent feels a duty to fund their children’s college education. However, like custody and child support, determining obligations as far as tuition, all factor into divorce cases.
Truth be told, New Jersey law recognizes education as a priority. Many other states don’t have specific requirements when it comes to divorced parents paying college tuition. Instead, they’ll take measures to enforce agreements when parents consent to contribute their fair share.
What makes New Jersey exceptional dates back to a case decided by the New Jersey Supreme Court in 1982. Family court judges still follow the principles established in Newburgh v. Arrigo, 88 N.J. 529.
College Tuition for Children of Divorce
The idea is that parents want what’s best for their children. The Newburgh case states that in a general sense, parents are only legally obligated to support their children until the age of majority. However, the Supreme Court also noted the “privilege of parenthood carries with it the duty to assure a necessary education for children.”
The fact that the court decided Newburgh nearly forty years has some significance. The court acknowledged that college education was formerly reserved for the elite and that times changed. As it stands now, even more, children move from high school to college.
Determining Parental Obligations
Upon review, the Supreme Court decided that twelve factors should be considered when it came to divorced parents and their contributions to college tuition. They are:
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.
Judges continue to exercise their discretion in obligating parents to contribute to their children’s education.
How It All Works Out
In best case scenarios, parents attempt to work out the details of their children’s education together. However, that’s not always possible. Regardless of the age of the child, they may actually find themselves used as a pawn in the divorce game.
The best interests of the child remain paramount in the court’s decision. However, that’s not to say that squabbles don’t occur as a result. For example, there’s always the case where one parent doesn’t fulfill his or her obligation. Or, that the child doesn’t apply for grants and loans.
An experienced family law attorney can help parents through the process. This would include discussions concerning child support.