Q: My divorce settlement agreement is silent in terms of college tuition, Do I have any legal obligation to contribute?
A: This is a non-exclusive list of the factors the family court is supposed to consider when faced with this issue:
(1) whether the parent, if still living with the child, would have contributed toward the costs of the requested higher education;
(2) the effect of the background, values and goals of the parent on the reasonableness of the expectation of the child for higher education;
(3) the amount of the contribution sought by the child for the cost of higher education;
(4) the ability of the parent to pay that cost;
(5) the relationship of the requested contribution to the kind of school or course of study sought by the child;
(6) the financial resources of both parents;
(7) the commitment to and aptitude of the child for the requested education;
(8) the financial resources of the child, including assets owned individually or held in custodianship or trust;
(9) the ability of the child to earn income during the school year or on vacation;
(10) the availability of financial aid in the form of college grants and loans;
(11) the child's relationship to the paying parent, including mutual affection and shared goals as well as responsiveness to parental advice and guidance; and
(12) the relationship of the education requested to any prior training and to the overall long-range goals of the child.
It would probably be helpful to discuss your situation and each of these factors with a family law attorney who has experience dealing with these cases to help you sort our your thoughts.
A: Years ago, Judge Selser and I I taught the family law course for young lawyers and the issue of whether parents have an obligation to contribute to their children's college costs was always a topic we addressed because the case law suggests that you need to examine the Newburgh factors to determine whether you will have an obligation or whether your obligation ends when your child graduates from high school. The short answer is that if your child has the aptitude and interest to attend college or trade school, presume that if an application is filed with the NJ family court system, the court will be inclined to impose an obligation upon you and your ex to contribute to the cost of that higher education. The fact that the agreement is silent as to whether you have an obligation or not, is not dispositive of the issue nor binding on the court. In fact, even if the agreement specifically stated that you did not have an obligation to contribute, a NJ family part judge could still impose it on you since it addresses your support obligation for your child and your ex did not have the legal right to waive a right owed to your child.
If your ex wants to sit down to discuss costs and your involvement with the process, do so and try to figure out how to fairly share the costs with your ex and your child and who will be responsible for what expenses or what percentage of the costs - and make sure that you put in writing the deal worked out.
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