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 from college and experience difficulty establishing careers during the recession. Historically, Courts have decided that if the child is no longer a college student, he or she should be emancipated. But what about when a child enters college and just never graduates? Does he or she receive child support indefinitely? Enter the “perpetual college student” (those who saw National Lampoon’s Van Wilder may better understand the reference…).

This exact situation was confronted in the unpublished (non-precedential) decision of Wesley v. Noor. In that case, the child entered Cumberland County College to obtain his associate’s degree in the Fall of 2008. In March 2011, the non-custodial father filed a motion for emancipation and termination of child support based on his belief that the child had not been enrolled as a full-time student since December of 2010. In response, the Plaintiff asserted that the child was making shaky, yet steady profess toward graduating in the Spring of 2012 – 4 years after he entered his 2 year college program. The trial court terminated child support, stating:

the [c]ourt is not going to make the Dad continue to pay child support for a child who is, on the [c]ourt’s perception, not making process at an appropriate rate of speed to justify me requiring Dad to continue to pay child support as though the child were still in high school…

I recognize that I [emancipated the child] under the circumstances as they exist, but if the child makes reasonable progress in school that does not mean that another application cannot be made…

 

In his written order, the judge stated:

Here, with all due respect, this child’s progress in school is not at what might be called a “normal course.” I[f] he is attending Cumberland County College in the Fall of 2011 – it is his fourth Fall Semester in a normally two-year school. He has taken at least one semester (Spring of 2010) off. The court cannot in good conscience require DAD to keep paying support for going on four additional years while the child takes twice as long to complete a program than normal.

 

The custodial mother appealed. The Appellate Division affirmed the decision of the trial court for “substantially [sic] the reasons stated by the trial judge…” and found no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s ruling.

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Eliana T. Baer is a frequent contributor to the New Jersey Family Legal Blog and a member of the Family Law Practice Group of Fox Rothschild LLP. Eliana practices in Fox Rothschild’s Princeton, New Jersey office and focuses her state-wide practice on representing clients on issues relating to divorce, equitable distribution, support, custody, adoption, domestic violence, premarital agreements and Appellate Practice. You can reach Eliana at (609) 895-3344, or etbaer@foxrothschild.com.

 

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. Continue Reading If You Want the Other Parent to Pay for College, Don't Wait Until Graduation to Seek Contribution

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, simply lack the funds to move out and may remain with their parents, even well into their twenties.

As a Matrimonial Attorney, these staggering statistics present an interesting question as to a non-custodian’s obligation to continue contributing to the support of a child, though a college graduate and/or employed, is still ostensibly supported by his or her parents; at least with regard to shelter expenses.

In New Jersey, a parent is under no duty to contribute to the support of an emancipated child. In deciding whether to emancipate a child, a Court will generally examine whether the child has “moved beyond the sphere of parental influence.” When a child moves beyond the sphere of influence and responsibility exercised by a parent and obtains an independent status on his or her own, generally he or she will be deemed emancipated. As mentioned above, a curious situation presents itself where the child should be self-supporting, but the economy prevents him or her from obtaining lucrative employment.

A similar, yet instructive, situation was the topic of a recent (unreported) decision by the Appellate Division in Gall v. Gall. In Gall, the parties’ son, Brian, lived at home and intended to enroll as a full time student in the future. He worked full time, paid for his personal expenses including gasoline, clothes and food outside the home. However, his earnings were insufficient to allow him to move out of his mother’s home.

The trial court declined to emancipate Brian and awarded child support pursuant to the Child Support Guidelines. In addition, the non-custodial father was required to contribute toward Brian’s college expenses. The non-custodial father appealed.

While the Appellate Division “agree[d] in theory that a full-time college student is not emancipated as there is no ‘fixed age’ for emancipation…” it further found that because Brian was employed full-time and was only a part-time student, he should have been deemed emancipated. As a result, the Court reversed the order of child support as to Brian. In doing so, the Appellate Division set forth a bright line (although non-precedential) rule of thumb: “…a child over the age of eighteen, working full-time, and attending school only part-time, absent some unusual circumstances…is emancipated even if residing with a parent because his or her employment income is alleged to be insufficient to allow the child to live independently.”

 

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.  

Continue Reading Another college case: What's the actual ability to pay?

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 and expenses. I have just completed a college tour with my child, and attended multiple presentations in which I listened to many questions from parents. While March and April are when the acceptances generally come in, and one parent becomes concerned about the financial contributions of the other, now is actually the time to begin “getting your ducks in a row.” So I offer the following tips: 

   One of the most litigated issues in college contribution cases is the relationship between the parent and child and whether the non-custodial parent has been given a voice in the process.   Now that your senior (or better yet,  if you have a junior) is filtering through the masses of brochures that are coming in the mail every day, make sure that he or she stays in regular contact with the other parent, giving information about the schools he or she is looking at and making a case why they may be a good fit. If the relationship is strained with the non-custodial parent, make doubly sure that this information is flowing on a regular basis, and do it through emails or written correspondence. If your student is not doing this, make sure you do it. It may be a critical issue later. Build a paper trail. 

   All colleges and universities are now required to provide an estimate of total costs per year. Find that information on the school’s web site and pass it along. Make sure there are no surprises. And make sure you do it. Sometimes,  parents want to make the student responsible for the communication with the other parent. That’s fine until a critical error is made in the excitement of the college process. I once had a case where the student inadvertently received the approval of the other parent on the costs only to find out later that he had not realized that the figures he was using did not include room and board. Understandably, the other parent felt a bit snowed. One this one occasion, be a helicopter parent.

    Make sure you and your student apply for any and all financial aid and scholarships. Even if you do not think that your student will qualify, do it. First, you may be surprised. Some schools are actively seeking students from a specific geographic area, and will offer aid as an incentive. Second, this is a specific issue that courts look at.

   On that note, if you usually file for an extension on your tax returns, or if you know that your former spouse, or other parent does, let them know that it is important to get the returns filed on time. The FAFSA form, the application for federal financial aid, and the form that most schools use when determining need based financial aid, will want to see current income information. If one parent refuses to cooperate in this regard, this may be a factor a court will review.

   Understand how the schools your child wants to attend handles financial aid decisions. Some schools only look at the income of the custodial parent. Others look at the income of both, and still others look at total household income, including income from step parents. Know what you are dealing with and how it may affect your situation.

   Investigate the state schools and apply. This even if your student really does not want to go. First of all, it is good to have a back up safety school. More importantly, many non custodial parents take the position that they should only have to pay for a state school, and when the child has not even applied, that becomes the battle cry of the litigation. Better that you and your student show that you have investigated all options, and have a solid argument as to why another school may be a better fit.

Finally, be realistic. What would you and your former spouse or other parent have done if you were still together? If a state school was the only option that your child would have had if you had lived happily ever after, don’t assume that your ex is going to be ordered to foot $50,000 per year ( unless of course they have had a significant change of circumstances for the better since the break up).

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.

Continue Reading GRADUATE SCHOOL – WHO PAYS?

On May 21, 2010, the Appellate Division issued a reported (precedential) opinion in Colca v. Anson involving different aspects of child support and college support.  This case reinforces several principles regarding child support and payment of college expenses that we already knew (which makes it somewhat surprising that it was reported) but nevertheless is a good reminder of certain basic principles. 

The first of these principles is that child support belongs to the child and thus cannot be waived by a parent or for that matter, by a court.  This comes up in two contexts in this case.  First, in a 2005 Order, for whatever reason, the trial court denied the father’s request for child support for the parties’ daughter who was in college.  In another motion in 2008, the father sought child support again.  Thinking that the matter had previously been decided by the court and that there were no changes of circumstances, the mother did not even file a Case Information Statement. 

The trial court disagreed with the mother’s position that the prior Order was forever binding and required a showing of changed circumstances, pointing out that the duty to support a child continues until emancipation.

In addition, the Appellate Division affirmed the trial court’s decision that the child’s inheritance could not be considered with regard to support.  While perhaps correct as to child support, there are not enough facts given in this opinion about how much was really in dispute. That said, the Child Support Guidelines suggest an adjustment to child support may be required if a child has an extraordinarily high income.  Also, in the famous NJ case on college expenses, Newburgh v. Arrigo, which we have blogged on many times before, a child’s assets are a factor to be considered.  Since the college was at issue in this case, one wonders why the inheritance was not considered here.

Continue Reading A DECISION TO NOT REQUIRE CHILD SUPPORT IS NOT BINDING ON FUTURE COURT TO HEAR MATTER – CHILD SUPPORT CANNOT BE WAIVED

Post-judgment motions are common in family law, especially when it comes to paying for college tuition for the children of the divorced parties. Often times, older Property Settlement Agreements ("PSA") are ambiguous when it comes to which parent will pay a child’s college tuition. As was the situation in the recent unpublished decision in Orero v. Orero, App. Div., docket no. A-2230-08T3, decided on February 19, 2010.

The Orero’s were married in 1987 and divorced in 1996. In 1996, the parties entered into a PSA where they agreed that if the children were to attend college each party shall contribute “to the best of their ability.” Well fast forward 13 years and their oldest daughter is about to begin college in Colorado. Now, Mrs. Orero seeks Mr. Orero to contribute half of the daughter’s college expenses. Mr. Orero alleges that he was (1) not consulted regarding the daughter’s choice of schools, (2) doesn’t have the ability to pay because he has children from another marriage, and (3) if he must pay, than he is entitled to a plenary hearing (similar to a trial) to determine the relevant facts. As a result, Mrs. Orero files a motion with the court seeking to enforce the PSA. Notwithstanding Mr. Orero’s arguments, the trial judge ordered Mr. Orero to pay half the college expenses. Mr. Orero filed a motion for reconsideration, which is denied. So Mr. Orero appeals.
 

Continue Reading COLLEGE TUITION – WHO PAYS?

What happens if a parent throws a teenage child out of the home and continues to collect child support? In short – sanctions. Those were the facts in a recent unpublished New Jersey Appellate Division decision, Lidon v. Lidon, Appellate Division, docket no. A-3355-08T3, decided December 28, 2009. 

In Lidon, James and Jean Lidon were divorced in 1997.  Both parents were practicing attorneys. They had two children who resided with Jean. James paid $337 per week in child support to Jean.  The eldest child, a senior in high school, allegedly had a drug and alcohol problem. As a result, Jean threw their son out of her home in the summer of 2007.  This child subsequently lived with friends, in his car, and finally with Jean’s former boyfriend. He finished the school year and was accepted into Lehigh University. 

Continue Reading CHILD SUPPORT FOR A CHILD THAT DOESN'T LIVE WITH YOU?

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.

 

Continue Reading A PARENT'S OBLIGATION TO PAY FOR POST-HIGH SCHOOL EDUCATION