Dear Cassie: I am divorced, and have a son who is about to start his senior year in high school. Does my ex-spouse have to pay for my son’s college?
On the basis of your question, I am not sure if you entered into a Marital Settlement Agreement at the time you divorced which addressed the payment of college costs. If this issue was addressed in your Agreement, the terms of your Agreement will in all likelihood control how these costs are paid.
However, if your Agreement is silent on the issue, or if your Agreement does not specifically address who is paying what costs, then New Jersey law will control the issue of college contribution. A case called Newburgh v. Arrigo is currently the guiding law on the issue.
That case provides for an analysis of 12 factors in a case involving contribution by divorced or divorcing parties toward the college costs of their children. Those factors include: (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.
As with nearly all family law issues, a resolution of this particular issue is fact-sensitive, meaning that it will depend on the specific facts and circumstances of your case.
Finally, an aside–New Jersey is one of few states which recognizes an affirmative obligation on the part of divorced parents to pay for their child’s college costs. While there have been rumblings for years about legislation designed to overhaul this scheme, Newburgh v. Arrigo remains good law in New Jersey.
If you are dealing with the issue of college contribution, you should seek the advice of matrimonial counsel.
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Cassie Murphy is a divorce and family law Partner with the Law Offices of Paone, Zaleski & Murphy, with offices in Red Bank and Woodbridge.