When do you address college Contribution in a settlement agreement?

New Jersey is unique in that most states do not require parents divorced or intact to pay for college. In New Jersey, we compel people. You were punished once when you got divorced. And get punished again whenever your kids go to school because if the parents get divorced, the judge can compel them both to pay for a child’s college expenses. Which leads us to when do you address college contribution in a settlement agreement?

Right now, you’re probably more focused on the application and the admissions process, but you need to start talking about who’s paying for what. You can’t wait till the day school starts or the day you get a term bill to start worrying about how you’re going to pay.

Depending on how old your kids are at the time, it could be a critical issue. If, for instance, your kids are already in high school, by the time that you’re negotiating your settlement, then it’s probably something that’s going to be more relevant to you now. But if your kids are only two and four or even if they’re just in grade school, it’s too soon to start talking about that. You have no idea where you’re going to be in your life over the next five to 10 years. You don’t know what your kid’s going to want to do. You don’t know if they’re going to want to stay in the state or if they’re even going to want to go to college. They might decide they want to be an actress and run off to Hollywood.

Whether you’re going to address it or not depends on if you want to have the same fights and the same battles and spend more money sometime later. But on the other side, you don’t want to address it when the kids are too young because too many things might change either in the law or in your circumstances that you may not anticipate. Also, if you might have an agreement that didn’t fully address whatever the changes are. You might be stuck in a bad situation.

As far as we are concerned, if the kids are in high school, you should address it in your agreement. If they’re younger than high school, we think there’s split decision on whether you address it, how much detail you put into the agreement, whether you’ll rely upon what the law is going to be at that time or to fully anticipate that there’s going to be a movement to change the law at some point.

We expect that the law will be that a parent doesn’t have an obligation to pay for college at some point in the not too distant future. Right now, as of 2020, that is the law in the state of New Jersey. You do have to contribute to the extent to which you can contribute, and most likely, parents will be on the hook for some contribution towards college.

If you need help trying to figure out any aspect of this process and how any of these suggestions apply to you, call us at (732) 384-1514 for a consultation. We’re here to help. Remember, we won’t tell you what you want to hear….We tell you what you need to know!

About the Author


John Nachlinger is a co-founder and managing attorney of Netsquire, a family law firm focused on streamlining divorces through effective mediation, settlement drafting, and court filing assistance. As a New Jersey Supreme Court Certified Matrimonial Law Attorney and Qualified Mediator, John guides couples toward equitable agreements without the cost and stress of litigation.

Recognized as a New Jersey Super Lawyer for over a decade, John’s client-focused approach aims to foster understanding during challenging transitions. With a background spanning top law journals, judicial clerkships, and boutique family law firms, John now applies his analytical skills to create workable solutions for all parties. His mediation services reshape the divorce journey by prioritizing compassion and compromise.

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