Recent Case Shows Divorced Parents Are Not Always Responsible For Paying Their Child’s College Tuition

College EducationA recently published New Jersey case held that a divorced parent is not always liable for a child’s college education. This case involved complex facts, and a number of criteria were considered in addition to the parent/child relationship. Divorce cases can be complex, especially when there are children involved in the equation. If you are considering a divorce or a dissolution of your civil union, you should talk to a New Jersey family law attorney who can help explain your case.

Mr. and Mrs. Black had been married for 17 years, and together they had three children. When Mr. and Mrs. Black were divorced from each other, the settlement included obligations to pay for their children’s college educations.  Although Mr. Black had repeatedly tried to establish a positive relationship with C.B., their oldest child, the child had  written  Mr. Black completely out of his life.  Therefore, Mr. Black no longer saw a reason to pay for C.B.’s college tuition.

Mrs. Black sued Mr. Black to enforce their divorce settlement  agreement. Her lawsuit was based largely upon Newburgh v. Arrigo, a case involving a similar set of facts. In the Newburgh case, the court held that a divorced parent may be required to contribute to the cost of a child’s college education.

For decades, New Jersey family law attorneys have argued over the set of 12 criteria set out in the Newburgh case that have been used to decide whether or not a parent is responsible for an adult “child’s” college education. One of Newburghs criteria says that payment for college could be contingent upon “the child’s relationship to the paying parent, including mutual affection and shared goals as well as responsiveness to parental advice and guidance.”

The 2006 New Jersey Supreme Court case of Gac v. Gac had an enormous impact on the Newburgh decision. The court stated that “a relationship between a non-custodial parent and a child is not required for the custodial parent or the child to ask the non-custodial parent for financial assistance to defray college expenses.”

This led many people to believe that the relationship between the parent and child is immaterial when deciding whether a parent should pay a child’s college expenses, but in Mrs. Black’s case the judge disagreed.   The judge noted that the relationship between the parent and child is still one factor to be considered.

The judge went on to note that Mr. Black had tried to get his son to attend family counseling sessions. The judge said that it would be too easy for any parent to just abandon the parent/child relationship and try to use that as an excuse not to pay for college. But in this case, it was the child who was unilaterally refusing to heal the relationship.

Mr. Black was also concerned about the expenses of college and the fact that C.B. has two siblings who appear to be college-bound as well. The judge recognized that if the father exhausts his finances paying for the first child’s education, there might be little left for the other two children. The judge said that the rights of a younger child should not be subordinated to the rights of an older child, merely because the older child was born first.

Although C.B. is not yet emancipated because he is attending college while his parent pays for it, he is an adult. The court asserted that “A parent-child relationship must be a two-way street …” and ordered C.B. to attend family counseling sessions if he wants to receive financial assistance from his father. The court noted that allowing the child to completely abandon the parent/child relationship and then demand money from that relationship “may be viewed by a court of equity as fundamentally unfair and inequitable to the parent …”

A divorce case can have a defining impact on your present and future finances. The outcome of your case can even affect relationships years into the future. If you are getting a divorce or dissolution, you should talk to an experienced New Jersey family law attorney. Contact the family law attorneys at Goldstein Law Group. Call 732-967-6777, or use the contact link on this page to request a consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Alimony Reform Law Addresses Inconsistencies Among Alimony Modification Cases, October 1, 2014

New Jersey Alimony Reform Creates Much Needed Guidelines, But Still Allows Broad Judicial Discretion, October 1, 2014

Termination of Alimony Payments in New Jersey,  August 27, 2014