It’s that time of year. High School seniors all over the country are making that agonizing decision, “Which college should I go to?”  While the kids are choosing schools, parents are thinking, “how will I pay for it?” Financing college is a challenge in the best of circumstances, but for families in which parents are divorced or separated, the issues become particularly difficult. 

New Jersey courts will, in appropriate circumstances, compel both parents to contribute towards the college or vocational educational expenses of their child. This is in recognition of the fact that in today’s day and age, a college or vocational education is becoming a necessity. In the absence of an existing agreement, New Jersey Courts will conduct an analysis considering several factors. The New Jersey Supreme Court, in the case of Newburgh v. Arrigo, 88 N.J. 529 (1982) set forth the basis upon which parents can be ordered to contribute towards college expenses.

When a child has suitable scholastic aptitude for the pursuit of a college education and continues to exhibit that aptitude throughout his college career, the court will examine:

  1. Whether the parent if still living with the child would have voluntarily contributed to the cost of the requested higher education;
  2. The effect of the background, values, and goals of the parent and 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 the higher education;
  4. The ability of the parent to pay the cost;
  5. The relationship of the requested contribution to the choice of the school and 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 the child’s responsiveness to parental advice and guidance; and
  12. The relationship of the education requested to any prior training and the overall long-range goals of the child.

After reviewing these factors, if a court finds that contribution for college is appropriate, it may impose some or all of the following conditions:

  1. All savings accounts earmarked for the child’s education shall have been exhausted;
  2. Scholarships, loans, grants, and any other financial assistance shall have been applied for in reasonable fashion. The parties and the applying student shall cooperate in this regard;
  3. Reasonable contribution shall be made by the child towards the education costs from summer employment;
  4. Each of the parties shall have an equal say in the choice of higher educational schooling;
  5. There shall continue to exist the customary parent-child relationship as currently exists;

Obviously, each case depends on its particular facts and circumstances and the financial abilities of each party. What is reasonable for one family may not be for another. However, when children show aptitude for college and their parents have the reasonable means to assist with, or pay for the entire cost, the Courts will fashion a remedy such that the child can attend post-secondary  school.