Who Pays for College in a Divorce?

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Who Pays for College in a Divorce?

Divorced parents and college tuition, room and board, and other expenses

Different states have different laws and rules for how college is handled in a divorce. Some states terminate child support when a child reaches 18 or graduates high school. These states leave the decision about who pays for college in a divorce to the parents. New Jersey encourages higher education. New Jersey gives the county family law judge the right to decide whether a spouse can be ordered to pay for all or part of a child’s college education.

Generally, if a child in New Jersey wants to attend college, the child is admitted to a college, and the parents are able to financially afford the child’s college education – then the judge may order that the parents pay for tuition, room and board, and other college expenses. Parents and their children who want to know who pays for college in a divorce should also review the availability of any federal or state loans to help pay for the child’s college expenses.

Divorced parents paying for college should know what factors determine the eligibility for and the amount of child support for college?

The family law judge needs to consider the following factors in deciding who pays for college in a divorce and how much – based on an old New Jersey case, Newburgh v. Arrigo, 88 N.J. 529 (1982):

  •       If the parent and child still live together – whether the parent would normally have contributed to the daughter’s or son’s higher education costs.
  •       The parent’s values and goals including an emphasis on having the child attend college.
  •       How much the higher education expenses are.
  •       The ability of each parent to pay for their child’s college education including their financial resources.
  •       How the funds the child is requesting relate to the course of study the child is seeking.
  •       The child’s ability to earn income during the school year and while she/he is on vacation.
  •       The availability of financial grants and loans. Many colleges do have financial aid packages.
  •       The relationship between the child and parent including shared goals and mutual affection.
  •       The long-term goals of the child and the child’s prior experience and training.

Family court judges will consider who pays for college in a divorce when the issue is ripe. Parents can agree on their own at any time how they are going to pay for their child’s education. As with all child support issues, the bottom line determination is – what is in the best interests of the child.

How does an experienced New Jersey family law helps draft or litigate orders for  who pays for college in a divorce?

The parents agree on their own about paying for their child’s education while a divorce is pending, the parents should review divorce college expenses in the agreement with experienced New Jersey divorce lawyers. Your lawyer will set forth the agreement in writing including when the obligation starts, how much the non-custodial parent will contribute to support, and what factors might end the duty to pay for college. The agreement should be conditioned on known costs since each college has its own expenses for tuition, room and board, meals, books, and other college expenses. College tuition for divorced parents is likely to be quite expensive as are the other college costs.

Some agreements and some court orders may be limited to what a New Jersey college that meets the child’s needs will cost. The limitation may apply to public colleges which are often much less expensive than private colleges. For example, parents who are reviewing who pays for college in a divorce should understand that attending Rutgers University is much less expensive than attending Princeton University.

The child support order must take into account the obligation of a parent to pay child support, in the event of a divorce, for any other minor children. The amount of child support for college is often affected by whether the child lives at home and commutes to school or whether the child lives on campus. On-campus living is normally considered a higher-quality college experience, but it is much more expensive than living at home.

Family law judges will review each parent’s financial assets when determining who pays for college in a divorce. Most of the focus will be on how much each parent earns in wages, business income, and any other income sources.

At DeTorres & DeGeorge Family Law, we understand why parents want their children to obtain a college education or advanced skills. We also understand the question of who pays for college in a divorce can be quite contentious. Our family lawyers fight on behalf of parents who want to secure the opportunities education can bring for their adult children. To discuss your child’s right to post-secondary education and who pays for college in a divorce, call us at 908-691-2104 or use our contact form to schedule an appointment. We have offices in Clinton and Florham Park.

Kristen E. Blucher
Kristen Blucher joined DeTorres and DeGeorge as an associate attorney in September 2021. Prior to joining the firm, Kristen served as a law clerk to the Hon. John P. McDonald, J.S.C., Family Part, Somerset County for the 2020-2021 term.  Kristen
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