Summer is coming to an end, and the first day of school looms on the horizon. Many New Jersey residents are trying to fit in last minute trips to the beach, time at the pool, and family vacations. But while some families are relaxing at the beach club, parents of college students may be facing the realization that tuition bills and book fees are right around the corner.
Students who graduate from college with staggering debts can have trouble getting a mortgage, starting their career, or affording the basic costs of living. As college costs and student debts rise, many parents try to cover some or all of their child’s expenses to help them get a good start on their professional journeys. For divorced parents, this can present some unique challenges. For example, are non-custodial parents required to contribute to the cost of their child’s higher education?
Changes to the New Jersey laws may alter the answer to that question going forward. Child support is calculated based on a set formula contained within the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines. On January 19, 2016, Governor Christie signed S-1046/A-2721 into law. This law, which takes effect on February 1, 2017, may allow the courts to child support obligations to encompass contributions to the cost of the child’s education.
New Jersey Child Support Termination
Under the existing law, a child support and/or medical support obligation normally ends when a child turns 19. In cases where a dependent is still in high school, attending full-time college, vocational or graduate school, is disabled, if the parties reached a separate agreement, or if continued support was granted by the court, support can continue up to age 23.
Child support obligations automatically terminate when a child reaches 19 years of age unless:
- A different age for termination is specified in a court order, not to extend beyond 23 years of age;
- A written request seeking the continuation of child support is submitted to the court by a custodial parent prior to the child reaching the age of 19; or
- The child receiving support is in an out-of-home placement through the Division of child Protection and Permanency in the Department of Children and Families.
Additionally, the obligation to pay child support shall terminate without order on the date a child marries, dies, or enters into military service, unless otherwise indicated in a court order or judgment.
New Law May Continue New Jersey Child Support Through College
The new law provides that a parent is not automatically relieved from paying “support or other costs while a child is enrolled full-time in a post-secondary education program.” This means that a court could order a non-custodial parent to continue paying in some form as long as a child is attending college or technical school full-time.
However, the statute doesn’t prescribe a one-size-fits-all schedule of obligations. Instead, property settlement agreements and/or judgments of divorce going forward should contain terms that delineate each parent’s obligation to contribute to their child’s college education costs. In determining what contribution to ongoing higher education costs would be fair for an obligated parent under such an agreement, the law dictates courts should consider all relevant factors. It lists the following as things that should be included in the consideration:
- Whether the parent, if still living with the child, would have contributed toward the costs of the requested higher education.
- The effect of the background, values and goals of the parent on the reasonableness of the expectation of the child for higher education.
- The amount of the contribution sought by the child for the cost of higher education.
- The ability of the parent to pay that cost.
- The relationship of the requested contribution to the kind of school or course of study sought by the child.
- The financial resources of both parents.
- The commitment to and aptitude of the child for the requested education.
- The financial resources of the child, including assets owned individually or held in custodianship or trust.
- The ability of the child to earn income during the school year or on vacation.
- The availability of financial aid in the form of college grants and loans.
- The child’s relationship to the paying parent, including mutual affection and shared goals as well as responsiveness to parental advice and guidance.
- The relationship of the education requested to any prior training and to the overall long-range goals of the child.
Experienced New Jersey Child Support Attorneys
If you have children and are going through the divorce process or you’re a custodial parent in New Jersey who is currently entitled to child support, you may have questions about what the new provisions mean. You need a skilled attorney to help you navigate the New Jersey family court system and help make sure your child’s education is paid for fairly. See our FAQ About New Jersey Child Support for answers to many common child support questions or call the experienced family law attorneys at the Mark Law Firm at 888-734-8287 for help with any part of the child support process.
The Mark Law Firm has three convenient locations, so whether you live in Warren or Westfield, Summit or Berkeley Heights, we are close by! Contact us to make an appointment to meet with one of our Newark, Oradell, or Basking Ridge family law attorneys today.