New Jersey Divorce: Who Pays for Divorce College Costs? 

In the 1982 New Jersey Supreme Court Case of Newburgh v. Arrigo, New Jersey first required divorced parties to potentially be responsible for paying for college/post-secondary educations for their children.

At the time, the requirement was somewhat colloquially known as “The Rutgers Rule;” that the responsibility would not exceed the cost of the state college Rutgers.  More recently the “Rutgers Rule” was overturned, and courts essentially view obligations for college payments on a case-by-case basis.

Newburgh v. Arrigo Factors

The Newburgh v. Arrigo case provided certain factors for courts to consider when requiring one or both parents to contribute to their child’s college costs:

(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.

As you can see, there is thus no bright-line rule requiring or not requiring contribution, but rather a number of factors (all which must be weighed by the courts) in determining what may be fair. This situation creates the somewhat interesting scenario wherein divorce couples in New Jersey may be required to contribute towards their children’s college costs, but intact (i.e. non-divorced) couples are not so required.

Although many have argued this may not be fair (it treats one class of citizens different from another and may trigger constitutional issues), the Newburgh v. Arrigo factors have been around and implemented now for over 35 years. If anything, recent cases have shown a greater willingness to require payment.  Courts may now require payment of or contribution towards even law school, medical school, or professional school costs.  This is particularly likely in highly educated and/or high-earning families.

Contributing Towards a Child’s Gap Year

Another interesting issue that I have addressed on occasion in my own practice is the use of “gap years.” It is becoming increasingly common for children to take a year off to travel, engage in pre-secondary education after high school, volunteer, or otherwise engage in a “gap year.” This year has generally been found not to trigger emancipation of the child because it is limited in scope and time and the child still has the intent thereafter to pursue additional education. I have seen courts require payment towards gap year education; something that surprised me at the time but that is becoming increasingly common in New Jersey divorces.

Emancipation and Child Costs

Other difficult factors for you to consider may be how you can prove a child is emancipated, is not pursuing their education full-time or in good faith (for instance, I have also had many cases where my client argues their child is failing most classes, is taking 6 years to finish a 4-year degree, etc.), those cases can become difficult to prove (particularly if the non-custodial parent is somewhat strained from their child), and make for interesting emancipation arguments before the court. If a child is emancipated then you would not be required to contributed toward their college costs.

Parental Strain and College Costs 

Finally, the issue of parent/child “strain” is considered in the Newburgh v. Arrigo factors and is an important concept.  It is difficult to imagine paying for a child’s education when that child won’t even speak to you, but if courts determine you are more to blame for such strain than your adult child then you may be forced to do so anyway.

If you are pursuing a New Jersey divorce or post-judgment issues concerning contribution towards college, it may be important to contact a local lawyer to assist you in understanding your rights and responsibilities and fighting for a fair disposition of your case.

Your New Jersey Divorce Lawyer:

If you’re considering a New Jersey divorce or Family Law action contact me to discuss your options.  You can schedule an initial consultation by calling my office at 908-237-3096 or by scheduling your own divorce consultation online by clicking here.