By John Jones, Esq.
Do New Jersey courts have the power to order a parent to pay for all or part of their child’s post high school education? If everyone is living together as an intact family, the answer is “no.” However, if the parents get divorced, the answer is most definitely “yes.” That may not seem fair, but it is the law of New Jersey.
In 1982, the New Jersey Supreme Court set forth twelve factors that a judge must consider in deciding the issue of whether a parent should be required to contribute to his/her child’s college education and, if so, how that obligation should be divided among the child and his/her parents. The factors are:
1. If the parent was still living with the child, would that parent have contributed toward college?
2. Is it reasonable for the child to expect a parent to contribute in view of the parent’s background, values and goals?
3. How much is the parent being asked to contribute?
4. What is the parent’s ability to pay?
5. What is the relationship between the requested contribution and the kind of school or course of study sought by the child?
6. What are the financial resources of the parties?
7. What is the child’s commitment to and aptitude for the requested education?
8. Does the child have independent financial resources?
9. Can the child earn income during the school year or during breaks from school?
10. What financial aid is available to the child?
11. What is the child’s relationship to the parent who is being asked to pay, including mutual affection, shared goals and the child’s responsiveness to the parent’s advice and guidance?
12. What is the relationship between the requested course of study and any prior training or long-range goals of the child?
These are the basic questions, and they apply to all post-high school studies, such as trade school, not just college. However, they are by no means exclusive, and each case will present its own unique questions and considerations. To further complicate the issue, a court can order a parent to pay child support and no college contribution; college contribution and no child support or some combination of both. Therefore, it is imperative that the parties deal with this issue in their agreement or well in advance of the child’s enrollment in college or trade school. Your attorney can and should assist you in working out this very difficult issue with the other parent.