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Divorced Parents - Who Pays College Tuition?
New Jersey courts generally view a college education as a necessity, and the cost of college as the responsibility of the parents, not the student.
Parents who are seeking a divorce when their child is in college or entering college may be able to have the same court deal with the issue of who pays college tuition at the time of their divorce. If their children are much younger and not yet ready for college the divorce judge may anticipate the cost of college tuition and stipulate how it shall be paid in the future.
Children who are already attending college are rarely granted emancipation on the motion of a parent during a divorce, possibly attempting to avoid the responsibility to continue paying college tuition. But New Jersey divorce courts will consider a number of factors when making a determination about parental responsibility for college tuition and related expenses.
Not all of the factors are financial in nature. A judge will also weigh the importance of each parent’s own education, background, values and goals as well as the financial ability to pay for the child’s higher education. And the aptitude, commitment and goals of the child are also part of the equation, as well as any personal assets the child has accumulated and any income he or she may be capable of earning while attending college classes.
The availability of financial aid for both the student and the parents is also considered, as are the long range employment goals and legitimate potential of the student to meet those goals.
Whether one parent or both parents will be required to contribute to the cost of their child’s education is also affected by the requirement to pay child support. Most courts will not require a parent to pay college tuition and expenses as well as child support to the other spouse concurrently.
If the need for modification of a divorce decree arises later, based on the child’s age and/or changes in parental circumstances the court will usually schedule a plenary hearing where both parents bring their tax returns and asset information and where both parents give testimony regarding their ability to pay for college.
The child’s circumstances and choices are also reassessed in the process of determining who pays for college, and in issuing a judgment in fairness to all parties.
Hiring an experienced family lawyer to help you establish who pays the cost of college for your child can be an excellent investment at the time of your divorce or thereafter.
New Jersey is an equitable distribution state, meaning that the division of property in a divorce is to be done fairly, not necessarily equally. The court can take into consideration any factor it deems relevant when dividing property, but it must consider certain factors, such as how long the couple was married and the age and health of both spouses, the income or property brought to the marriage by each spouse, the standard of living that was achieved during the marriage, and the extent to which one spouse may have deferred career goals, among others.
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