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. 


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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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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.


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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.


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Many couples in the midst of a divorce have very young children. As a result, the issue of funding their children’s college education is typically reserved until the child is of college age. Parties typically agree to include language in their Property Settlement Agreement wherein they will exchange income information and begin discussions regarding the

Previously I have blogged on both the issue of sanctions assessed by a court against one party in a divorce or post divorce matter and also the obligation to contribute to the costs of a college education for a child and to what extent.

These issues are often addressed to the Appellate Court of New Jersey as in many family law matters they are topics hot for debate.  Most recently, the Appellate Division in the unpublished decision of Hikes v. Hikes, Decided August 13, 2009, Docket No. A-6642-06T2 addressed both the issue of sanctions and the payment of college for a child.

Sanctions may be requested by a party or  granted by a court on its own in a situation where one party acts in extreme bad faith or is non-compliant.  Sanctions can be viewed as a sort of punishment for that extreme bad faith or non-compliance.  This is especially so when the other party acts in good faith and is complaint.


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Recently, I addressed the question as to when a child is emancipated under the eyes of New Jersey law.  As I indicated there, the New Jersey Supreme Court defines emancipation as "the act by which a parent relinquishes the right to custody and is relieved of the duty to support a child."  Newburgh v. Arrigo, 88 N.J. 529 (1982). A related question also addressed by the Court in Newburgh is a parent’s obligation to contribute towards a child’s postgraduate education expenses.

The Supreme Court in Newburgh set forth a non-exhaustive list of factors for a court to consider in determining a parent’s obligation to contribute to such educational expenses.  These factors were subsequently codified by statute at N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(a) as follows:

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 parties.

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 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.

12. The relationship of the education requested to any prior training and to the overall long-range goals of the child.


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The issue of relationships between parents and children when determining allocation of college expenses is often a complicated one. I have had many post divorce clients, usually non-custodial clients, discuss their frustration with the lack of involvement that they have had in the selection of college for their sons or daughters but are expected to pay a significant portion thereof. They feel as if the are simply “a wallet.” The recent unreported Appellate Division decision of Miller v. Tafaro brought this to mind.

In Miller, the father had been estranged from his children for many years following the parties’ divorce. When the mother asked the court to enforce the Property Settlement Agreement as to the payment of college expenses, the father said that he should not have an obligation to pay as he did not have a relationship with the children. The Court noted that as this was but one factor for consideration by the court, and, given that the lack of relationship over the years with the children was a result of the father’s actions, the trial court’s decision that the father was obligated to pay a portion of college expenses was affirmed.


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