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In a perfect world, both parents would gladly share the costs for their children’s college education. Unfortunately, the harsh reality of a divorce often raises the question whether parents have a legal obligation to pay for their children’s education.

In many cases, New Jersey courts will order the noncustodial parent to help pay for college. In fact, in New Jersey, even if there is no relationship between the child and the non-custodial parent, the non-custodial parent can still be ordered to provide financial assistance to defray college expenses.

The relationship between the parent and the child is only one of twelve factors a court must consider. While it is a factor, there must be a fair balancing of all twelve factors to determine whether a parent should contribute to college expenses and, if so, to what extent.

In New Jersey, the factors to be considered when assessing a claim for college contribution are as follows:

  1. Whether the parent, if still living with the child, would have contributed toward the cost of the requested higher education;
  2. The effect of the background, value 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.

New Jersey courts have held that a former spouse was not required to contribute toward his daughter’s college education and expenses when neither the custodial parent nor the child made a request for financial assistance prior to selection of a college and, in fact, only made the request after she graduated.

Thus, New Jersey courts prefer that a parent or child seeking contribution toward the expenses of a higher education will make the request before the expenses are incurred. The courts have held that as soon as practical, the parent of the child should communicate with the other parent concerning the many issues inherent in selecting a college. At a minimum, a parent or child seeking contribution should initiate the application to the court before the expenses are incurred. The failure to do so will weigh heavily against the grant of a future application.

In another case, a former spouse was not required to contribute toward his child’s college education when the daughter and former spouse totally ignored the father in the choice and cost of college and simply presented the bill. The father should be consulted in advance, so that he can have input in seeking loans, evaluating the appropriateness of the school, etc.

One other factor to consider in New Jersey is that the noncustodial parent’s obligation to pay child support for the college student remains unaffected by any determination of whether the student has an obligation to contribute to his own college expenses. The courts have held that the obligation to provide for a child’s support will not be obviated by the noncustodial parent’s failure to maintain ties with his child or lessened due to the custodial parent’s interference with parenting time.

Although there may be situations where the estrangement may relieve the non-custodial parent from paying for college, the non-custodial parent must continue to pay child support for a child who is in college.

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