This week the Northern Hemisphere celebrated the Summer Solstice which marks the longest day of the year and the official start of the summer season. The month of June also brings with it the end of the school here in New Jersey and the many high school graduations. In New Jersey, approximately 70% of those graduates are enrolled to start college in the months ahead. For most families, once the euphoria of graduation wears off and celebratory balloons begin to deflate, it does not take long for the anxiety related the costs, both emotional and mainly financial, associated with a child[en]’s attendance at college to set in. The stress associated with the process can also be magnified in situations where the parties are divorced.
In New Jersey, while an intact family unit has no legal obligation to contribute towards their children’s education, the same principle does not apply to divorced families. In the seminal New Jersey Supreme Court case of Newburgh v. Arrigo, 88 N.J. 529 (1982), our Supreme Court held that, “in appropriate circumstances, the privilege of parenthood carries with it the duty to assure a necessary education for children.” Newburgh, supra, 88 N.J. at 543. The Supreme Court identified twelve non-exhaustive factors a court should consider when deciding a motion by one parent for contribution from the other parent toward the cost of a child’s higher education. The factors are: (1) whether the parent, if still living with the child, would have contributed toward the costs of the requested higher education; (2) the effect of the background, values 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.” The Court added “[i]n general, financially capable parents should contribute to the higher education of children who are qualified students. In appropriate circumstances, parental responsibility includes the duty to assure children of a college and even of a postgraduate education such as law school.” Id. at 544.
The factors set forth in Newburgh, contemplate that a parent or child seeking contribution towards the expenses of higher education will make the request before the educational expenses are incurred. As soon as practical, the parent or 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. Gac v. Gac, 186 N.J. 535, 546 (2006).