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New Jersey Judges Have the Power to Order Divorced Couples to Pay for College

These days, it’s very difficult to get a job after college graduation; competition is fierce. A graduate’s problems are only compiled when they realize how much money they owe in loans. College, by anyone’s definition, is outrageously expensive.

In many states, divorcing couples are not required to pay college expenses for their kids. The issue is centered on whether or not parents should have to pay child support after the kid reaches age 18. In state’s where the answer is no — no need to pay child support after 18 — the state cannot require a parent to pay for college expenses.

However, New Jersey judges have the power to order non-custodial parents to pay for their child’s education. Other states that have passed laws allowing judges to include higher education costs in child support orders include: New York, Massachusetts, Indiana, Connecticut, Illinois, Hawaii, Iowa, Missouri, Utah and Oregon.

Some states are quite liberal with their child support laws. For example, in Hawaii, as long as a child is a full-time student at a college, university or vocational school, a judge can require divorced parents to pay for college. There is no age cut off. Other states, such as South Carolina, Mississippi and Alabama, have absolutely no laws that deal with child support for college education. Judges in these states are permitted to order people to pay tuition as part of normal child support arrangements.

In New Jersey, family court judges will consider whether non-custodial parents have to contribute to a child’s college tuition based on a variety of factors, including:

  • Would the parents have contributed if they were still married?
  • The level of education the parents have
  • Financial resources of the parents and the child
  • The child’s area of academic interests and goals, as well as their ability to earn money while in school
  • The availability of financial aid and other grants and loans
  • The relationship between the child and noncustodial parent

Many parents, regardless of state laws, want to contribute to their child’s higher education. However, when making a child support agreement to do so, legal experts advise you to consider a number of things:

  • Define “college.” Does trade school count, for example
  • Define which expenses are covered (tuition, room, board, living expenses, books, etc.)
  • Set a time limit on your obligation to pay. If the child is on the 10-year college plan, perhaps you don’t want to be obligated for an open-ended period of time

Similarly, the parents can determine the conditions the child must meet to continue to receive the financial assistance. This includes passing grades, for example:

  • Decide how the payments will be made. The non-custodial parent has the right to request that payments be made directly to the school if they desire.

It’s important to work with an experienced divorce lawyer when drafting child support agreements, especially where college tuition is concerned. This is a huge nut to crack and you don’t want to be left holding the bill without protecting your rights.

Ronald Graziano is a knowledgeable family lawyer who has protected the rights of families affected by divorce in Cherry Hill for over 40 years. Contact him today about your child support agreement.

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