When there is a hostile relationship or a non-existent relationship between a child and a non-custodial parent, there is a possibility that the non-custodial parent may be relieved of the obligation to contribute towards college expenses.  In my prior blog, I discussed the impact of college financial support when the child won’t speak with the non-custodial parent.

After the blog was posted, many asked me whether or not a deteriorated relationship between a child and a non-custodial parent could result in the termination of the non-custodial parent’s child support obligation. The answer is almost always NO the child support obligation will not be terminated even if the child refuses to have a relationship with the non-custodial parent.  (Note, however, where a custodial parent encourages such a circumstance or is the cause of the circumstance, continued custody of the custodial parent may be significantly impacted.)

Strictly for child support purposes, if the child has not moved “beyond the sphere of influence and responsibility” of the custodial parent and has not obtained “an independent status of his or her own”, the child would not be emancipated and the non-custodial parent would continue to have a duty of child support.  Under this inquiry, unless the child is a celebrity and making their own appreciable amount of income, clearly any child under the age of eighteen and/or still a high school student will have not achieved an independent status.  Therefore, if the child and non-custodial parent never see each other, never speak or the relationship is hostile, the non-custodial parent still has a duty to support that child.

When a child does graduate high school and is over the age of eighteen, their is a presumption that the child should be emancipated. It is the burden of the custodial parent to prove that the child is not beyond the parent’s sphere of influence and responsibility and that the child has not obtained an independent status. In New Jersey, if the child is attending college on a full-time basis, the custodial parent’s burden is easily met and child support would not be terminated.

However, if the child refuses a relationship with the non-custodial parent and refuses to provide ongoing information regarding college, even if the parent is not contributing towards college education costs, child support would likely be terminated.

In a 2010 decision by Judge Jones in Ocean County, Judge Jones found that both the child/student and the custodial parent each have a responsibility and obligation to make certain that the non-custodial parent is provided ongoing proof of the student’s college enrollment, course credits and grades and that requiring a child/student to produce such proof to the non-custodial parent does not violate the student’s rights of privacy under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. (Van Brunt v. Van Brunt, 419 N.J. Super. 327 (Ch.Div. 2010). Every college institution in the United States prohibit disclosure of a student’s college information, even to parents, unless the student provides a written authorization allowing such disclosure.

Notably, the custodial parent in Van Brunt argued that she should not have an obligation to provide the college information because she too was not authorized to obtain such information from the college. In response, Judge Jones found that if a custodial parent who receives child support is unable to convince the child to provide the non-custodial parent information regarding college progress, then that child is “beyond the sphere of influence” of the custodial parent and should be deemed emancipated.

Here is a child support “what-if” to the think about: What if the non-custodial parent is prohibited contact with the child by virtue of a Domestic Violence Restraining Order or some other Court Order entered by the Family Court. How will the Court balance the non-custodial parent’s right to confirm the college student’s progress with the child’s rights under such Orders? For example, if the non-custodial parent is not permitted to know where the child resides pursuant to a Domestic Violence Restraining Order, disclosure of the college information would certainly indicate where the child resides and attends school. I suppose that it would be rare to come across such a set of facts but after seventeen years practicing family law, I have come to learn that many cases presented to the Family Court Judge involve rare and unique circumstances.