Cornell Law School
Cornell Law School (Photo: Eustress via Wikimedia Commons)

A father who’d agreed to shoulder half the cost of his daughter’s legal education—before she got into Cornell Law School, which costs $225,000 to attend—found no relief from a New Jersey court late last month.

A two-judge appellate panel of the New Jersey Superior Court ruled that James Livingston’s divorce settlement obliges him to pay approximately $112,500 to help his daughter attend Cornell.

Livingston argued that circumstances including his estrangement from his daughter and her decision to attend an expensive private law school rather than a cheaper public school should relieve him of any obligation to help foot the bill. Judges Joseph Yannotti and Victor Ashrafi were unconvinced, and in an unpublished opinion on Feb. 20 upheld a lower court decision that Livingston must pay.

“We find nothing unfair or unjust in enforcement of [the relevant paragraph] of the parties’ divorce settlement agreement as they executed it,” they said.

According to court records, Livingston and ex-wife Patricia Rossi divorced in 2009 after 26 years of marriage. They have two adult children. The daughter, identified only as J. in court records, graduated from Rutgers University several months before the divorce.

The settlement stipulated that the mother and father each would pay 50 percent of J.’s law school costs after scholarships were factored in, as long as she maintained a C average. Just before the divorce, however, the daughter cut off all communication with Livingston.

Several law schools accepted the daughter in 2012 and she chose Cornell, even though the school offered her no scholarship. The annual cost for tuition, books and living expenses would be $74,580, according to the opinion. Livingston declined to pay a portion of her costs when asked, but offered to contribute $7,500 a year if the daughter went to Rutgers School of Law instead and lived at home. He complained that his daughter had not consulted him in her law school choice.

Rossi in September 2012 asked a court to enforce the settlement, and Livingston filed a cross-motion seeking to have the law school language vacated or modified. The trial court judge sided with Rossi.

Livingston appealed, arguing that his daughter waited too long after the divorce to apply to law school; that she waited too long to notify him of her financial aid package; and that the settlement agreement implies that he should not be required to pay if he and his daughter are estranged. Livingston said he should have been informed of the costs and financial aid offers from the other law schools to which she was admitted so they could reach a joint decision.

“The parties’ agreement did not include a frequently-used provision of such divorce settlements that father would have a right to participate in the planning of J.’s post-graduate education and her school selection,” the appeal court said. “While an implied term of the agreement might be that J.’s plans and selection still had to be reasonable under the circumstances, the record does not suggest that they were not.”

Contact Karen Sloan at ksloan@alm.com. For more of The National Law Journal’s law school coverage, visit: http://www.facebook.com/NLJLawSchools.