graduation child

A recent Appellate Division case reminds us of the potential pitfalls of negotiating contingent issues in property settlement agreements, specifically as it relates to contribution to future college costs of children born of the marriage.

In Zegarski v. Zegarski, the parties had four children, with the two oldest already attending in-state college at the

It is not unusual for parties to address their children’s college education in their Marital Settlement Agreements.  If children are college age or close, parties may actually specifically determine the percentages that they will pay for college costs (including pre-college costs such as SAT/ACT preparation, application fees, etc.)  If the children are younger, parties often

More and more, when discussing the payment of college education expenses with clients for their children, I am being asked, “What about graduate school?”  The guiding principal behind that question, I suppose, is that, in New Jersey, it is well-settled that absent extenuating circumstances, both parties to a divorce have an obligation to financially provide

We know that children are dependent on their parents for longer than ever before – sometimes well into their twenties. As I stated in an earlier blog post on this issue, which can be found here, currently, over 45% of 26-year-olds live at home with their parents. Many of these young adults have graduated

So you are divorced and your child is going off to college.  What is the best way to get the other parent to contribute, whether there is an agreement that says he should or the agreement says that the issue shall abide the event.  Should you A) consult prior to college and keep the other parent in the loop and then make a motion if you cannot agree before the child goes off ot college; B)  make a unilateral decision then file your motion; or C) wait until the child graduates and when the other parent makes a motion for emancipation, hit him with a cross motion asking him to pay his share of a six figure college bill?  Obviously, A is the preferred method, B is a worse method and C is a method that may risk you not getting re-paid.

As we learned from the Supreme Court a few years ago in Gac v. Gac, a former husband was not required to contribute toward his child’s college education expenses, because neither his ex- wife nor his child requested financial assistance from him until after he sought to terminate child support and the child had graduated from college.  The Coourt found that their failure to make such request at time that would have enabled the father to participate in child’s educational decision as well as to plan for his own financial future weighed heavily against ordering him to contribute to the child’s educational expenses after her education was completed.

As the philosopher George Satayana said, those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.  That is what happened in the unreported (non-precedential) case of Fletcher v. Euston decided on June 11, 2013.  The facts of this case are similar to Gac and the worst case noted above.  However, the parties’ divorce agreement did provide that the parties would share the cost of college based upon their financial ability at the time.  In response to the Husband’s motion for emancipation, the ctrial court ordered him to reimburse the former wife over $111,000.  The Husband appealed.
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The number of college graduates living with their parents has almost doubled since 2007. Currently, over 45% of 26-year-olds live at home with their parents. The figures highlight the difficulty that many young Americans have had in establishing careers following the longest recession this country has faced since the Great Depression. Some children, although employed,

For a non-custodial parent, the rejection of a child is one of the most stressful and hurtful situations regardless of whether the deterioration in the relationship is the child’s fault, the custodial parent’s fault, the non-custodial parent’s fault or a combination of all three. Unfortunately, the bitterness often escalates when the child and custodial parent seek financial contribution for the child’s college education. Many non-custodial parents in these types of situation question whether or not they are legally obligated to contribute towards the college expenses of a child who refuses a relationship with them.  

In Newburgh v. Arrigo, 88 N.J. 529 (1982), the New Jersey Supreme Court established twelve factors that a court shall examine in evaluating a claim for a contribution by a parent towards the costs of their child’s higher education. While all twelve factors must be weighed by the Court, a common issue raised by the non-custodial parent relates to factor eleven:

11.       The child’s relationship to the paying parent, including mutual affection and shared goals, as well as responsiveness to the parental advice and guidance.

 

Many litigants assume that if there is a deterioration in the relationship between a non-custodial parent and a college-bound child, the non-custodial parent’s obligation to contribute towards college is terminated. However, in Gac v. Gac, 351 N.J. Super. 54 (App. Div. 2002), the Appellate Division held that while there are circumstances in which a child’s rejection of their parent would warrant a dismissal of any obligation on their part to contribute to the child’s college costs, a child’s rejection of a parent’s attempt to establish a relationship does not immediately eradicate that parent’s obligation to contribute to college costs. For purposes of determining college contribution, the analysis is not simply whether there has been a breakdown in communication but whether a non-custodial parent can be required to contribute to his or her children’s college costs when communication between parent and child has been severed and, as a result, the parent has not been part of the college selection process or the child’s college  progress.


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At the start of the week when most parents who have college students are writing that second semester check (gulp), the Appellate Division has decided a non precedential case in which a father objected to the trial court’s decision to make him pay 27% of his daughter’s college expenses at a private college. The case brings to the forefront situations in which the realities of limited available income come head to head with obligations for college expenses. Throw in a poor relationship between one parent and the college student, and you have a mess.

In the case of Caruso v. Whitlock, the father’s income was such that his basic child support obligation under the child support guidelines had been reduced as a result of the self support reserve. The self support reserve is a calculation in the child support guidelines which ensures that the obligor has sufficient income to maintain a basic subsistence level. So in other words, after child support, the obligor has to have left an amount which is 105% of the US poverty guideline.

The child in this case was enrolled in Rider University, a small private university without input from the father, with whom she did not have a good relationship. Both parents blames the other for the poor relationship.  The judge took some testimony from the parties on the issues, but there was not a formal hearing.  The daughter preferred a smaller college as opposed to Rutgers, the State University. The father stated that he wanted his daughter to go to college. The child received minimal financial assistance from the college and had some limited assets of her own.

The trial court ordered the father to pay 27% of the net college expenses which was based on the percentages from the child support worksheet that had been used the year before in an application for unreimbursed medical expenses. This came to approximately $6860 per year.  


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We are in the season that High School seniors and their parents suffer from college anxiety. Figuring how to pay that tuition bill is stress enough in a two parent, happy household. In cases of divorced or separated parents, it can be overwhelming. Spring is when I receive most inquiries from clients about the payment of college tuition

An often addressed issue between divorcing parents is who is going to pay for the children’s college education and related expenses, and in what proportion.  When the issue is litigated, a court will generally look to the twelve factors enunciated in the Supreme Court’s 1982 Opinion of Newburgh v. Arrigo.  Resolutions between parties may include a number of possibilities, including dividing the costs in proportion to the parents’ respective incomes, abiding the event, etc.  Settlement agreements also typically contain language requiring the child to apply for scholarships, grants, loans and other forms of financial aid to stem the blow.  College funds or other types of savings accounts might have been established for the children that are to be applied before any additional financial obligation befalls on the parents. Each of these different mechanisms is designed to protect the children, ensure proper education, while also considering the parent’s financial circumstances as well, which are often altered following a divorce due to additional expenses, new families, legal fee debt and the like.

The next question, forming the basis of this blog post, is what obligation do parents have to contribute to graduate school?  Does a parent have an obligation to pay for a child’s law school tuition?  How about medical school?  This infrequently addressed issue in the court system was recently taken on by the Appellate Division in Schambach v. Schambach, a very interesting decision containing an analysis in a concurrence/dissent that merits in-depth discussion.


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