When kids turn 18, or when they are done with high school, they are legally adults. However, the needs of a child do not actually end just because he or she is 18—and that is especially true for kids going to college, and all the expenses that go with it, including the continued obligation to provide child support.
No Rules When College Comes
Many parents find themselves in the “wild west” when kids go to college. Before college, everything related to financial responsibility for the kids was settled, whether by agreement or by a court—the parents knew who was paying for what and how disputes over decisions surrounding the child were resolved.
However, now the child is going to college, and there are a whole new set of decisions, and expenses—perhaps more than ever before—and yet, the divorce agreement or divorce judgment, says nothing about which parent must pay for what.
To Go or Not?
Unlike many states, New Jersey does allow a judge to make decisions as to which parent pays for what when it comes to the child’s college expenses, even though the child is over the age of 18.
The first decision that a court can make is whether the child should go to college at all, if there is a dispute between the parents, and assuming the child wants to go (the child-now an adult-cannot be compelled to go to college by a court, if they do not want to go). Usually, if a child wants to go, and is able to go academically, the court will allow the child to go over the objections of a parent.
Then there is the issue of who pays the college expenses. The court will look at the finances of both parents, and whether the college option being chosen, if the most affordable one. The court may provide a “set off” to the parents, for any scholarships, grants, or student loans that the child could obtain. The court may also provide financial credits to parents, to account for money that the child can make working while in college.
When are the Decisions Made?
The court will often only make determinations about college, and who pays for it, when the child is ready and at the appropriate age. Rarely will the court entertain these issues when the children are young.
Your divorce settlement agreement can address these issues, and agree to them at any time. The key is to keep college obligations as broad as possible, so there is room to negotiate in case either parent’s financial situation changes (if college is a long way off), but to be specific enough that the parties intend for the child to attend college, and that both parents will take some financial responsibility (no matter how much or how little) for those expenses.
Contact our New Jersey family law attorneys at The Law Office of Agnes Rybar LLC today to help you in your divorce or with any child support issues.