What payment obligation, if any, do divorced parents have towards their child’s post-high school education? The New Jersey Supreme Court concluded more than 25 years ago that a child’s right to support includes a "necessary education" after high school, whether it be a vocational school or college. However, a parent’s obligation to pay for such schooling depends generally on the expectations and abilities of the parties involved to pay, as set forth in 12 different factors including:
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.
Notably, these factors contemplate that the parent or child seeking payment towards educational expenses will be made before the expenses are actually incurred. The Appellate Division addressed this timing issue in the recent unreported (not precedential) decision of Gorman v. Cruz, where it reversedd a trial court’s denial of a mother’s application to compel payment by the father for the daughter’s beauty school because the child failed to apply for school costs from the father until the costs had already been incurred and paid.
Reversing the trial court’s decision, the Appellate Division noted that delay in seeking payment from the parent is only one factor for consideration and by no means warrants an automatic denial. The father had already contributed to the cost of the school, demonstrating his approval, or at least acquiescence towards his daughter’s decision to obtain her cosmetology education, as well as his ability and willingness to pay. The Appellate Division also rejected the father’s argument that he was only obligated to pay for college – not a "technical" school like beauty school – relying on a rational construction of the terms of the parents’ matrimonial settlement agreement as to the children’s education and its general purpose to support the children in pursuing their career goals.
As this case demonstrates, a thorough review of the 12 factors above, as well as the timing of the payment request, is necessary to determine a parent’s obligation to pay for post-high school education costs.