Figuring out child support and the division of child expenses for children causes much conflict in many cases. However, the real fun begins after the children head to college. New Jersey is one of the few states that does not emancipate children at a specific age, like 18, and requires parents to continue to support children through college. How do child support and college expenses relate?
The best starting point is to discuss college expenses. Many people agree in their divorce settlement agreements about how and under what circumstances they will contribute to their children’s college expenses. Those provisions are often specific as to the amount each party will contribute, whether the children will be required to contribute to his or her expenses and how financial aid comes into play. We take this opportunity to note that an appellate case recently came down that seems to suggest that these settlement agreements may not be enforceable to the extent they require the child to either contribute to his or her own college expenses or take out financial aid. However, that is an open question and one that we expect will be further clarified in the near future. If you do not agree to anything specific in your settlement agreement, or if you are divorcing at the time your children are going to college, you will be guided by the law.
New Jersey law is that whether parents must contribute towards college and, if so, how much that contribution should be is guided by twelve (12) factors:
- whether the parent would have contributed toward the costs of the requested higher education if the family still lived together
- the background values and goals of the parent and the reasonableness of the expectation that the child attain higher education
- the amount 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 to the overall long-range goals of the child.
Once it is determined how much is owed for college, we must be careful that neither parent is double paying for the support of the children. Specifically, we must ensure the child-related expenses are counted once, either as child support or as college expenses. It is more difficult than it sounds! Some things are easy. If your child continues to live at home and commute to college, child support will largely go unchanged as the child’s expenses have really not changed. However, if your child lives on campus, child support must be modified. For example, your child will only be home a couple weeks per year and may have a food plan at school. As such, it is not appropriate to have full child support for that child given that child support covers roof expenses and food. Other items are far more difficult.
Ensuring that child support and college expenses are balanced is imperative. You need to ensure you have an experienced attorney review these things for you and make sure you get the best possible deal. Give us a call…you have nothing to lose.