Child Support: Who Pays for College?

The issue of a child’s college education comes up often during a contested family law case. In New Jersey, the parents are required to pay for their children’s college costs essentially based on their ability to pay at the time of college enrollment if they are divorced or separated. Interestingly, there is no similar requirement of two people who are married. New Jersey has thus created a college contribution right for children of divorced or separated parents.

The landmark case of Newburgh v. Arrigo, 88 N.J. 529 (1982) sets forth the factors that the Court must consider when determining the parents’ responsibility to contribute to their child’s higher education. These factors are:

  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.
  13. Given the factors, there is no specific hardline rule for contribution. For example, just because one parent makes twice as much as the other, it does not mean that they must contribute twice as much for college. The analysis is fact sensitive and the amount of contribution varies depending on the situation.