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Who pays for the children’s college after a divorce?

On Behalf of | Jun 7, 2022 | Divorce

Getting divorced is never easy, but the issues those going through a divorce must navigate can become more complex when there are children. Parents must discuss everything from child custody and visitation arrangements to how they will divide the expenses that come with raising the kids. Although healthcare needs, clothing and other necessities are likely top of the list, it is also important to take future educational expenses into consideration during the divorce negotiations.

Is this something we really need to worry about?

If you hope to send your child to college, it is a good idea to have these discussions during the divorce. A recent piece in Kiplinger dug into the discussions that often arise when it comes to divorced couples and children who wish to go to college and found that these discussions can get contentious pretty quickly. Parents may disagree over public versus private schooling and whether children should go at all. Hashing this out as part of the divorce agreement can help to ease the discussion when children are prepping for college.

The decision to go and which type of school is best are just the initial conversations to have during divorce negotiations. Those who choose to send their children to college agree to a large financial commitment. The average four-year private non-profit institution charged a mediation tuition of over $36,000 in 2018 and even state public colleges averaged over $10,000. It is important to note that these estimates focus on tuition. Students generally need to pay extra for room, board, and supplies. As such, parents should take the potential cost and how it will be split into consideration before they finalize their divorce.

What if we already finalized our divorce and this issue is just coming up now?

The answer to this, like all family law questions, will vary depending on the state. Family law is a matter of state law, and each handles these types of questions a little different.

Ideally, the parents will discuss this issue prior to the finalization of the divorce and have a plan in place within their divorce settlement agreement but this is not always the case.

If it was not discussed, and a child wishes to pursue higher education, the child may expect both parents to contribute to their educational expenses and New Jersey state law generally supports the child’s request. Litigation can result if one parent declines to kick in and cover their fair share of the cost.

If it were to get to this point, New Jersey courts often begin to address the issue by looking at a New Jersey Supreme Court decision. The case, Newburgh v. Arrigo, set the standards for parents of divorce who do not agree on how to pay for college. This case led to the create of a list of 12 factors that trial courts often consider if the dispute about paying for college ends up in court. These factors include the amount sought by the child, the ability of the parent to pay, the financial resources of all involved and the relationship between parent and child. The court’s decision may vary depending on the facts of the case.