College costs post-divorce from an alienated parent

 

by Gary Borger, Esq.

NJ is in the minority of states which gives judges the power to order parents to make financial contributions to the cost of their children’s higher educations. While the 12 factors a NJ judge must take into account in doing so have been in place by case law since 1982, this week an opinion by a trial judge in Ocean County (Judge Lawrence Jones) offers guidance to trial judges and attorneys in how to deal with the situation where the parents agreed at the time of their divorce that they would contribute to their three children’s college education expenses when the time came but where the child and the non-custodial parent (father) are estranged and, although the father was willing to work on the relationship, the child was not. The relationship between the parent and child is one of the 12 factors in deciding whether a parent must contribute to his/her child’s college education expenses.  Judge Jones addressed this factor by not looking back (as he recognized that trying to find who was more at fault in the deterioration of the relationship was less productive than trying to rehabilitate the relationship) but rather looking forward. While the judge ended up enforcing the agreement and ordering the father to make his contribution, he also ordered the son and father into counseling, and kept the courthouse doors open for the father to apply again in the future to terminate his obligation to pay for college if the child refuses to engage in the mandatory five counseling sessions the judge ordered. The judge also ruled on the conflict between the cost of a state versus a private university, considering the financial circumstances of the parents and that there were two younger children who would need a higher education down the road. For those interested, the opinion can be found at:  http://www.judiciary.state.nj.us/trial_court_opinions/BLACK-V-BLACK.pdf