New Jersey child-support orders should consider the educational needs of the children. Generally speaking, New Jersey courts hold that it is the parents’ responsibility to provide a post-secondary education for their children. In some cases, the court will also issue an order that one or both parents contribute to private or religious elementary and/or secondary education.
Aretsky Law Group, P.C., will help you understand the issues involved. We will guide you through the process to ensure that your divorce agreement or modification meets the needs of you and your children. We will do everything we can to come to an agreement between you and your ex-spouse; however, if an agreement cannot be reached, we will vigorously represent you to protect your rights and to enable you to provide the best education possible for your children.
We are also able to provide assistance in the filling out and filing of the FAFSA, which is necessary if your child is applying for financial assistance.
Private Elementary and Secondary Schools
New Jersey courts may consider child support for private or religious school to cover tuition and other expenses. Several factors, including the following, will be taken into account by the judge:
- the quality of the public schools available;
- the ability of the parents to pay; and
- the educational career of the child.
If you and your ex-spouse cannot agree on whether or not your child would benefit from private elementary or secondary education, these issues will be decided by a family court judge. You will need a skilled attorney, knowledgeable in the laws of New Jersey, to advocate on your behalf.
The best interests of the child will be the main priority of the Court. New Jersey courts consider a college education a necessity. They generally require parents to contribute to their children’s college education if they are financially able to do so. For this reason, it is vital that divorcing couples work out the sharing of college expenses at the time their divorce agreement is being negotiated or in a post-divorce modification if the agreement has already been finalized without these provisions. Our team of knowledgeable divorce lawyers can assist you in all of these matters and help you navigate these difficult issues.
The Divorce Agreement
The issues surrounding college expenses must be spelled out clearly and specifically in your divorce agreement. These are among the questions that must be answered so that the payment of college expenses meet with the educational and financial expectations of you and your child:
- Who will pay for preparation expenses? These include but are not limited to test preparation books and courses, college visits, and applications.
- Who will pay for room and board? Who will pay for tuition? Will one party pay for all? If not, how will these costs be divided?
- Who will pay for textbooks?
- Who will provide spending money?
Some couples—especially those whose children are very young—fail to consider college expenses when they are working out their divorce agreement or property settlement. This can be rectified through the creation of a post-divorce modification.
If financial aid is necessary, it is also crucial that these conditions are included:
- Who should have primary custody for the year prior to applying for financial aid?
- Have both parents agreed to share financial information in a timely manner so that the child can file the FAFSA form and the CSS profile?
- Is insurance necessary in case something happens to one or both parents?
- Will the agreement include a cap on expenses or on the length of time the student has to complete the course of study?
FAFSA is an acronym for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This form is published by the United States Department of Education. Universities and colleges use the FAFSA as a means of making an initial determination for a student’s eligibility for financial aid.
FAFSA does not award financial aid, but it is very important for those who are applying for this aid.
FAFSA bases its findings on the income of whoever was the custodial parent during the 12-month period prior to the application. If the child’s custodial parent is the higher-income parent, it may be beneficial to change the child’s primary residence starting with the middle of the child’s junior year in high school.
The College Scholarship Service, or CCS, publishes a profile application used by some private institutions to decide whether or not to grant financial aid.
The Court Decides
If a couple’s divorce decree, property settlement, or post-divorce modification does not address the issue of who pays for what regarding college expenses, then the Court will probably order a plenary, or complete, hearing. Named after the 1982 case Newburgh V. Arrigo, this hearing is sometimes called a Newburgh hearing. As a result of that case, the Supreme Court of New Jersey ruled that parents are obliged to provide a college education.
First the Court must ascertain whether or not one or both parents are financially capable of contributing to the college expenses. If it decides that they are, then it must consider each of these twelve factors in order to determine who should pay for what:
- Whether the parent, if still living with the child, would have contributed toward the costs of the requested higher education;
- The effect of the background, values and goals of the parent on the reasonableness of the expectation of the child for higher education;
- The amount of the contribution sought by the child for the cost of higher education;
- The ability of the parent to pay that cost;
- The relationship of the requested contribution to the kind of school or course of study sought by the child;
- The financial resources of both parties;
- The commitment and aptitude of the child for the requested education;
- The financial resources of the child, including assets owned individually or held in custodianship or trust;
- The ability of the child to earn income during the school year or on vacation;
- The availability of financial aid in the form of college grants and loan;
- The child’s relationship to the paying parent, including mutual affection and shared goals as well as responsiveness to parental advice and guidance; and
- The relationship of the education requested to any prior training and to the overall long-range goals of the child.
If the child is working full time during the school year, then he or she may be expected to contribute as well.
Although there are a few circumstances under which a judge might rule in favor of a parent who does not want to contribute to a child’s college expenses, those situations are rare. New Jersey courts believe that a college education is a basic right and that it is the parents’ responsibility to contribute towards that education. It is best for all involved if these matters are agreed upon in advance.
If you are in need of a divorce agreement, a property settlement, or a post-divorce modification, or if you require representation at a Newburgh hearing, the dedicated family-law attorneys of Aretsky Law Group will work diligently to protect your interests.