Seeing your kid go to college is a dream for many parents.  It’s a major step for a young person. The college experience helps a student prepare for a career, as well as get his or her first taste of freedom. Unfortunately, the cost of higher education, as you know, can be costly. When you’re trying to cover it as a divorced parent, it adds an especially challenging layer to the situation.

At a time like this, you’d want your ex to step up to the plate and shoulder some of the responsibility for paying for your child’s college expenses, wouldn’t you? More than likely, you’d expect that they “should” be helping with this expense, since it’s his or her child too.

Don’t be surprised if your ex doesn’t necessarily see contributing to college expenses in the same way that you (and possibly your child) do. If your ex has been making child support payments for a number of years already, they may have assumed that the payments would stop once your child finished high school.

While there is no stated law in New Jersey requiring parents to pay for college, the Courts have found in some circumstances that parental responsibility includes the duty to assure children of a college and even of a postgraduate education,  such as law school or medical school. In making a decision, the Courts rely on the following factors:

  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.

In New Jersey, a child who is enrolled in college full-time is not considered emancipated. Both parents are required to provide financial support.

Don’t Leave Discussions About College Expenses to the Last Minute

Ideally, you and your ex agreed on how you were going to handle college expenses long before your child was ready to choose a school. Planning should be something that is discussed between both parents and the child. It would be unfair to keep your ex out of discussions about where the child will be going to college and then expect them to pay half (or more) of the bill for a private, out-of-state school, for example.

You are better off planning how the two of you are going to deal with this expense in advance. If your marriage had not broken down, it would have been something you would have dealt with as a family; the fact that you are divorced doesn’t mean that the two of you can’t work together on a plan to pay for your child’s education.

Consider All the Options for Paying for Post-secondary Education

Rather than trying to pressure your ex into paying for college expenses, try a co-operative approach first. You have a much better chance of getting your ex to cooperate in a plan to help pay for your child’s college if he or she knows that several options are on the table.

Let your ex know that your child has applied or is going to apply for federal student financial aid, as well as school-based financial aid and any available scholarships. This knowledge might make the discussion of sharing college expenses easier. If you still feel as though you are running into resistance on the subject of getting help with college expenses, you still have a few avenues left to explore.

If you are discussing post-secondary education with your ex, do make a record of your conversations. Keep notes as you’re talking and send a follow-up email to your ex afterward confirming what was discussed. Be sure to include any agreement the two of you made, including any figures and dates.

Go Over your Divorce Agreement

Your divorce agreement may have been signed several years before your children would have been old enough to even think about going to college. If it specifies that your ex is responsible for contributing a certain amount toward your child’s higher education expenses, then you have the option of going to court to have the agreement enforced.

The agreement may not state exactly how much your ex is expected to contribute toward your child’s college expenses. It may only use general language stating that your ex is expected to pay a “reasonable amount” or contribute “based on ability to pay at the time.” If this is the case, the two of you will either have to work out a figure between yourselves or ask the Court to decide what the contribution amount should be.

The question of whether your ex has to help with college expenses is one that could be full of potential pitfalls. If you have questions or concerns about how to deal with this matter, your best option is to consult an experienced family law attorney.

Maritza Rodríguez has dedicated her life to helping families just like yours. Even if your divorce was a decade ago, having an understanding family lawyer on your side could mean everything.  Call Rodríguez Family Law at 862-241-1228 or send us an email to help keep your family’s college plans on track.