NJ CHILD SUPPORT LAWS REGARDING COLLEGE
For most families, the prospect of paying for college is daunting. For divorced families, it can be even more so. A parent’s obligation to contribute to their child’s college education is one of the most litigated issues post-divorce. I am often asked by clients, “What are the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines for college students?”
Most divorced couples in New Jersey, with minor children, become familiar with the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines. In most cases, the guidelines are straightforward and convey a calculation of a child support obligation that is based upon the incomes of both parents, the parenting time schedule, and credits for one party’s payment of health insurance premiums, and/or work related childcare.
DOES CHILD SUPPORT CONTINUE THROUGH COLLEGE?
Child support is intended to cover a broad spectrum of costs; however, college costs are not considered part of that. Certainly, those that divorce when their children are not yet close to college age very likely may not give college, and college costs, much thought. Most understand that child support is intended to be economic support for the other parent to maintain a household for the children of the marriage. Once a child goes to college, however, new and significantly higher costs associated with college arise, leading many to wonder if child support continues through college.
The answer can vary. A child support obligation continues until that child is emancipated. A child is not automatically emancipated at the age of majority (18). Most children, who continue their education full-time past high-school are in fact not deemed emancipated for the purpose of child support. However, once costs for college, or another advance degree program, come into play, the obligation to pay child support might shift depending on the costs involved, the financial needs of the child, and the financial circumstances of the parents. Thus, child support guidelines for college students are not universal. A parent may be obligated to pay child support and not compelled to contribute to college, or be called upon to contribute to college, and not pay child support, or do both. In other instances, a college savings plan may have been created, either during the marriage, or post-divorce, that significantly offsets college costs. Understandably, with so many differing scenarios, the New Jersey Child Support laws regarding college will apply differently to different situations.
Regardless, any determination by a court of whether a divorced parent will be compelled to contribute to college will consider the financial needs, the expectation of the child to a higher education, each parent’s ability to pay for college, as well as other factors. One critical factor which is also considered and that often comes up is the relationship of the child to the paying parent, and whether or not that parent was included in the college planning decision.
While in some situations, a litigation may be unavoidable, the best way parties can confront this issue is to deal with it at the time of divorce and include provisions in their marital settlement agreement about college and how the expenses, and each parent’s contribution to those expenses, will be addressed down the road.
For more information on NJ child support laws regarding college, contact our office today to schedule your consultation with an attorney to discuss.