Do Divorced New Jersey Parents Have to Contribute Towards the Cost of Their Child’s Graduate School Education? Not Necessarily.
One of the most talked-about aspects of New Jersey family law is the duty of divorced parents to contribute towards the cost of their child’s higher (post-high school) education.
In a previous article which I wrote two years ago and can be accessed by clicking here, I discussed this issue as it applies to a child’s undergraduate college. Almost 35 years ago, the New Jersey Supreme Court declared in a case called Newburgh v. Arrigo: “In general, financially capable parents should contribute to the higher education of children who are qualified students,” and established a series of factors that New Jersey family courts should consider in evaluating the claim for contribution toward the cost of higher education. You can see a list of those factors by clicking here for my firm’s website link.
In fact, the New Jersey Supreme Court also said in Newburgh v. Arrigo: “In appropriate circumstances, parental responsibility includes the duty to assure children of a college and even of a postgraduate education such as law school.”
That was the issue which one New Jersey family court judge recently addressed in a case called J.C. v. A.C.
The child in that case was about to turn 23 years of age, had completed college earlier this year and was pursuing a Master’s Degree.
When the child’s parents had been divorced 12 years ago, they had entered into a Settlement Agreement, which stated that they would pay for the child’s undergraduate education but made no reference to graduate school.
After the child’s father had filed a Motion asking that the child be declared emancipated as of the date of her college graduation, the mother responded by asking the court to order ex-husband to contribute to the cost of the child’s graduate education.
The New Jersey family court judge began his legal analysis by referencing the New Jersey child support law which was enacted in early 2016 but will not become formally effective until February 1, 2017. I wrote about that law in a previous article which can be accessed by clicking here.
The new child support law states, among other things, that “child support” in New Jersey must terminate when a child reaches 23 years of age, but that in “exceptional circumstances” a child may seek a court order requiring his/her parents to pay “other forms of financial maintenance or reimbursement.”
In J.C. v. A.C., the New Jersey family court judge distinguished the New Jersey Supreme Court’s reference to post-graduate education costs in Newburgh v. Arrigo by pointing out that it was not a divorce case in which a parent was objecting to contributing towards an adult child’s graduate school costs. Rather, Newburgh v. Arrigo involved the allocation of proceeds from a father’s wrongful death case, in which the child argued that his deceased father would have helped pay for his law school costs and that, therefore, some of the proceeds should be applied for that purpose.
The New Jersey family court judge concluded that “[t]here are major differences between the situation of an undergraduate student and a graduate student, the most obvious of which is that a graduate student already has a college degree, and therefore is generally and logically more able to become financially independent.”
Based on those differences, as well as the recently enacted New Jersey child support law, the judge ruled:
“[I]f an adult child and college graduate elects to continue his or her education pursuits through graduate school and asserts either directly or indirectly through a parent that he or she should not be emancipated and that the other parent should still be responsible for financial maintenance of any sort, then it is the applicant’s burden of proof and persuasion to demonstrate why an order for such maintenance, as opposed to independence, is appropriate, necessary and equitable under the circumstances.”
Salvaggio Law Group LLC devotes its entire practice to New Jersey Family Law matters, including those related to child support and payment of college expenses. If you want to talk, please call us at 973-459-4927 or fill out the Contact Form on our firm’s website.