College Educational Expenses

New Jersey courts have long recognized a child’s need for higher education. In that regard, parents can be ordered by the Court to contribute toward the cost of their child’s higher education expenses. This obligation was officially established in the seminal case of Newburgh v. Arrigo, 88 N.J. 529 (1982). In Newburgh, the New Jersey Supreme Court explained that “the privilege of parenthood carries with it the duty to assure a necessary education for children.” Id. at 545. Necessary support for unemancipated children could include contribution toward the cost of a college education, even though the child has attained the age of majority.

The Court in Newburgh set forth the following twelve factors the courts should consider when evaluating a claim for contribution toward the cost of higher education:
 

  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.

A reviewing court’s decision should not be based on any single factor.   Rather, the judge has “an obligation under Newburgh and N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(a) to consider all the enumerated factors.” However, Courts need not apply the factors for college contributions under Newburgh when the parties have a signed agreement or Consent Order which expressly enumerates how the college costs between the parents will be shared as recently articulated in the case of Avelino-Catabran v. Catabran, 445 N.J. Super 574 (App. Div. 2016). Absent inequity or unanticipated changed circumstances, courts should abide by the plain language of the agreement.

Case law has also discussed the obligation of the parent or child seeking contribution, to communicate with the other parent and allow him or her to participate in the decision about what college the child will attend. If a parent is unwilling to participate or contribute toward the cost of college, the timing of an application to the court is vital. The court has emphasized that the failure to initiate an application in court before the expenses are incurred will weigh heavily against the grant of a future application.

As each case is very fact sensitive, sound legal advice and professional help is important to ensure the appropriate outcome. The attorneys at Donahue, Hagan, Klein & Weisberg have experience in negotiating, mediating and litigating the issue of contribution toward college educational costs and can provide the necessary advice in this area.

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