Now that your child is off to college, you may be wondering, "What is my obligation for child support?" If you live in New Jersey, you will likely have a continuing obligation to pay child support for college students. If you have any questions, it’s best to reach out to a child support lawyer for advice.
Under New Jersey law, child support continues until the age of 19 but can extend to the age of 23 if specific criteria are met, including your child attending college. While child support continues, parents may also be responsible for paying a portion of their child's college education costs.
Newburgh v Arrigo Child Support Case
To start, child support for college students is distinct under the law. The leading case is Newburgh v Arrigo, which states that parents must contribute towards necessary education for their children in some circumstances.
While Newburgh makes clear that parents have a duty to contribute, it does not clearly define when that contribution is appropriate or how much that contribution should be. The Newburgh decision sets out several factors that the trial courts must consider in determining the child support required for a college student. These include: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 the overall long-range goals of the child.
Further Refinements to Child Support for College Students
In the years since Newburgh, New Jersey Courts have further defined some of the factors for consideration. One of the best analyses, though not a legally binding decision, to date came from the venerated Judge Lawrence Jones in his decision in Black v. Black, where Judge Jones articulated the existence of a parent-child relationship is one of the factors requiring consideration. That question essentially turns on whether or not there is a relationship.
In other words, where a parent does not have a relationship with the child, that may be a factor in determining whether and how much that parent should contribute towards a child support for a college student. In Black, upon evidence that the child had been dismissive of the father, Judge Jones required parent-child counseling.
Judge Jones also made clear that parents must consider the cost of in-state tuition versus private tuition. In addition,
Judge Jones recognized that if there are younger children who will likely be attending college in the future, resources available for college should not be exhausted on the older child but instead allocated to each of the children.
Finally, Judge Jones emphasized that no parent should contribute more than they can reasonably afford.
Child Support for College Students Remains an Open Dispute
The Newburgh decision, often cited in Marital Settlement Agreements, does not establish any bright-line rules for college contribution but instead sets forth the factors to be considered. The Black decision referenced above, while persuasive, is not binding law in New Jersey. Again, a child support lawyer can help you sort through the legal ramifications for support.
For those reasons, college contribution remains ripe for dispute both during and after divorce entry of judgments.
Because the duty to support your child and contribute to college education is distinct, it is possible that as a parent, you could face an increased support obligation and a requirement that you contribute toward college expenses. A common mistake is filing to modify your child support obligation once your child begins college because your support obligation may increase rather than decrease as your child's needs evolve.
It may very well be beneficial to seek a modification of your child support obligation once your child enters college, particularly if they are no longer going to be living at home. Be forewarned, however, that your support obligation can increase rather than decrease once your child goes off to college as their needs and expenses increase. That's why it is critically important to speak with an experienced family law attorney before you seek a modification.
Another common mistake is assuming that the other parent, your child, and you will all be equally responsible for your child's college contribution. The scope of a parent's contribution as well as your child's and the other parent's is not presumed to be a split of 1/3, 1/3, and 1/3. In advance, college selection, careful analysis, thought, and clear and unambiguous terms set out in a Marital Settlement Agreement can avoid a surprise after high school graduation.
Seek Counsel from a Qualified Child Support Lawyer
Because no-clear law exists for child support for college students, it’s best to seek counsel from a child support lawyer near you.
Our team of family lawyers is award-winning. We have the expertise to provide appropriate counsel to determine your child support requirements. Talk to us today.