Back to School – Now Who Pays? Factors to Determine How a Child’s Higher Education Expenses are Paid by Divorced Parents

CollegeBenjamin Franklin once wrote: “An investment in education pays the best interest.”  That quote by one of America’s Founding Fathers continues to be etched into our national fabric of ideals. The attainment of a college degree or some other form of higher education has become the norm and not the exception in today’s society.  Unfortunately, with the rise in the percentage of high school graduates continuing their formal education, the cost of higher education has risen exponentially. The sting of this financial reality is especially felt here in the Garden State.  In New Jersey, the seminal case in addressing the issue of a divorced parent’s obligation to contribute to their child’s secondary education is Newburgh v. Arrigo, 88 N.J. 529 (1982).  In Newburgh, the New Jersey Supreme Court directed the family courts to considered twelve factors when determining the amount that divorced parents should each contribute to their child’s higher education.   The following list is commonly referred to as the “Newburgh factors:”

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. Id. 545

New Jersey law has been crafted around the concept that a child should be protected from the adverse influence a divorce or separation can have upon the his or her pursuit of higher education. In the case of Gac v. Gac, 186 N.J. 535 (2006), the New Jersey Supreme Court recognized that “[u]nique problems arise when parents divorce. The heightened economic concerns and animosity that may develop as part of the divorce process in all too many cases may influence a parent’s viewpoint as to how he or she would have acted if the family had remained together.” Id. at 535.  The court also acknowledged 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.” Id.

As the cost of a college education continues to rise exponentially, it is important now more than ever to have experienced and knowledgeable representation to ensure that your child’s rights to a higher education are not compromised because of a divorce or separation.  The lawyers at James P. Yudes,  P.C. are here to assist you.