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It (Often) Takes Two (To Make College Decisions)

By Sarah Jacobs, Esq.

Involving a non-custodial parent in the decision-making process when your child is picking what college to apply to and what school will be “the one” is not only important to maintaining a healthy relationship between parent and child, but also is crucial if you find yourself in Court asking a Judge to impose upon the non-custodial parent an obligation to pay for the child’s college education.

Provided a child’s parents are financially capable, New Jersey Courts have routinely entered orders requiring divorced/separated parents to contribute to their child’s college education expenses. The landmark case on this issue was Newburgh v. Arrigo, 88 N.J. 529 (1982), which created a twelve factor test to be used in reviewing applications to compel another party to help pay for college. While many factors focus on the financial abilities of both the parties and even the child to pay for the college education, the Court is also required to take into consideration the state of the relationship between the non-custodial parent and child, and whether or not that parent was consulted prior to the expense being undertaken. See Gac v. Gac 186 N.J. 535, 546-47 (2006). The Supreme Court found the timing of the request for contribution to be incredibly important, as waiting until after the expense is incurred deprives the non-custodial parent of the opportunity to “participate in [the child’s] educational decision as well as to plan for [their] own financial future….” Id. at 546.

Since the decision in Gac, the Trial Court has held that if the parent/child relationship is already strained, the Court may compel them to attend counseling as a condition of receiving continued financial contribution towards college expenses. Black v. Black, 436 N.J.Super. 130, 146-47 (Ch. Div. 2013). This decision – although perhaps very particular to the circumstances before the Court at that time – further stresses that while no one Newburgh factor outweighs the other, those related to the relationship between parent and child are incredibly important. While Gac may have held that it is irrelevant whether or not the parent and child have a relationship with one another, Black holds the child to a certain level of responsibility along with the custodial parent in including the non-custodial parent. Gac, supra, 186 N.J. at 546. If a conscious decision is made to exclude the non-custodial parent and forgo a relationship, continued support (and perhaps initial contribution) may be in jeopardy.

The college application and decision process certainly has enough of its own stressful moments, such that some may find it easier to put off the conversation about how divorced or separated parents will share the college expenses that are not covered by scholarships and loans. However, procrastination can have disastrous results for the custodial parent and the child. To protect yourself and your child, regardless of which side of the equation you find yourself on, whether they are in diapers or about to receive their high school diploma, let one of our experienced family law attorneys counsel you about how best to navigate these waters, and contact Jacobs Berger for a consultation today.

For more information, or to talk about your options for child support and college expenses with one of our licensed and experienced New Jersey matrimonial law attorneys, give our office a call at 973-710-4366.

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At Jacobs Berger, our attorneys are experienced in protecting our clients across Madison, Randolph, Tewksbury, Morristown, and the greater Morris County area in all family law-related issues.

To schedule a strategic planning session with one of our experienced team members regarding your particular case, please contact us online or through our Morristown, NJ office at (973) 354-4506.