It’s the time of year when high school graduates begin preparing for their new lives as college freshmen. The stakes are high for these young adults, but they are also high for parents who must foot the bill. With today’s soaring tuition costs, paying for college can be a challenge for any family. For divorced parents, there are added layers of complexity. What happens when a divorced parent can’t or won’t contribute to tuition payments, or disagrees with the child’s college choice? For guidance, we can look to the handful of significant cases from recent decades in which the courts have grappled with the issue of parental college contributions.

College Contributions and the Law

New Jersey courts can order divorced parents to pay ongoing child support, including a contribution to post-secondary tuition and fees, for children who have graduated from high school and are pursuing higher education. This type of support is not governed by the child support formula and is instead calculated according to the factors set out in N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23a. Parents often agree during divorce settlements to share college expenses according to their respective incomes, but agreements reached when children are young cannot always predict a family’s financial situation at college-decision time. Like child support awards, a parent can ask the court to modify the agreement to contribute to college costs, but modifying that agreement would ultimately be up to the judge.

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