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.
As many parents get ready to send their children off to college, those who are collecting child support from a non custodial parent wonder how their child support may be affected. The New Jersey Child Support Guidelines are applicable when computing child support for children who are less than 18 or more than 18 and attending high school and living at home. What, then, happens to child support when a child leaves for college? The guidelines specifically state that they should not be used to determine parental contributions for college or other post secondary education. As an exception, they may be applied when a child is living at home and commuting to college. Over the years, courts have taken an inconsistent view as to how child support should be calculated for children living away at school. In the recent, published ( precedential) case of Jacoby v. Jacoby, the NJ Appellate Division addressed this issue.
In the Jacoby case, the parties who were divorced had two children. When the oldest matriculated at college, the non-custodial father moved to reduce his child support obligation to Ms. Jacoby since the child no longer resided in his mother’s house. The trial judge granted his application, and reduced the child support by employing a formula in which the judge calculated child support for two children, and then one child. The judge then took the difference of these two sums and determined 38% of the difference and 25% of the calculated remainder These two sums were then added and set as support. Essentially, what the trial court did was to recognize that child support is comprised of three broad categories: fixed costs – those costs that are incurred even when child is not residing at home. An example is housing related expenses; variable costs – those costs which are incurred only when the child is with the parent ( food is an example); and controlled Costs – costs which are incurred by the primary caretaker of the child, such as clothing and entertainment. The court then presumed there was a lower amount of variable and controlled costs when the child was away at college and reduced support accordingly.
When the second child matriculated, Mr. Jacoby again sought a reduction. A different judge heard the application and denied Mr. Jacoby’s request. He then appealed.