Child Support – Does It Stop When Your Child Goes Away to College?
Many New Jersey divorcing parents are surprised to find out that a parent’s child support obligation does not necessarily end if a parent pays for the entire cost of a child’s college education.
Parents who are divorced in New Jersey have a legal obligation to contribute towards their child’s college education if they are able to do so. The parent who has previously been paying child support to the other parent must also continue to pay that child support, unless the parents agree otherwise. Needless to say, the combined financial burden can be significant.
Of course, there is a close relationship between college cost and support: the higher the child support order, the less money remains available to contribute to college expenses. Therefore, New Jersey courts have recognized that a child going to college is a change of circumstances which warrants a review of the child support amount. However, until last week, there was no definitive New Jersey court decision which described how to recalculate the support.
That has changed with the release of the New Jersey Appellate Division’s Decision in Jacoby v. Jacoby. In that case, the Appellate Division was presented with the issue of whether a New Jersey trial court should use a formula like the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines (“Guidelines”) to make a support determination for a college student who is living away from home.
The Appellate Division held that use of a formula is generally wrong, because each case has a distinct set of facts, which must be carefully considered when making a child support determination.
The Jacoby Court stated that, when a trial court considers whether (and to what extent) child support for a residential college student should be adjusted, it should consider all of the factors listed in the New Jersey child support statute.
Those factors are: (1) needs of the child; (2) standard of living and economic circumstances of each parent; (3) all sources of income and assets of each parent; (4) earning ability of each parent, including educational background, training, employment skills, work experience, custodial responsibility for children including the cost of providing child care and the length of time and cost of each parent to obtain training or experience for appropriate employment; (5) need and capacity of the child for education, including higher education; (6) age and health of the child and each parent; (7) income, assets and earning ability of the child; (8) responsibility of the parents for the court-ordered support of others; (9) reasonable debts and liabilities of each child and parent; and (10) any other factors the court may deem relevant.
Although the Appellate Court did not hold that a trial court is always barred from using a formula like the Guidelines to calculate support, it cautioned: “In the unusual circumstance where it is determined support for a college student living away from home should be calculated with reference to the Guidelines, the just must specifically recite all findings underpinning such a conclusion.”
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