When your child heads off to college, it can be one of the most amazing feelings of accomplishment. That is until you see the cost of tuition, and then you may be wondering who holds responsibility for paying for those costs. You may not know that, under the state’s laws and in family court, you may still have to split the cost for college expenses for your child. At Jersey Coast Family Law, our experienced New Jersey family law attorneys can help you navigate this process.

College Education Can Be Expensive

Whether your child attends a public school or a private institution, the cost of education is quite high, and it continues to rise.

In 2023, a report issued by the Education Data Initiative found that the average cost of a college education in the US is $36,436 per student per year. That includes not only tuition but also supplies and their daily living expenses. This has grown about 2% over the last decade.

Do Both Parents Have to Pay for College?

Typically, New Jersey law requires that both parents contribute to their child’s college education expenses. Like with other costs shared by you and your child’s other parent, the amount is dependent on the court order created. While that may seem like an understandable factor during their youth, now that they are 18, you may be unsure how this applies to your situation.

New Jersey law requires that today’s college student parents continue to provide support for their child throughout their college education or until the child reaches the age of 23, whichever occurs first.

What Do Parents Need to Cover in College Expenses?

Costs for your child’s education typically include any related expenses related to going to school. That can include any type of cost, including:

  • Tuition
  • Books
  • Room and board
  • Fees
  • Transportation costs
  • Daily living expenses

What you have to pay is listed out in your divorce degree or child support agreements, in most situations. That can be a guide to how much of which expenses must be converted. Typically, it also means that your child’s other needs, like health insurance, continue on as well.

What Factors the Court Considers in Making These Decisions

An analysis of each person’s ability to pay is always a big factor when it comes to determining responsibility for financial contributions. There are numerous factors that the court can take into consideration, including:

  • Would the parent be contributing towards the child’s cost if they were still living with the child?
  • What is the parent’s ability to pay child support?
  • How much does the child need to pay for college?
  • What financial resources do both parents have?
  • Is the child committed to their college education and has the means to do well in it?
  • Does the child have his or her own income during the school year?
  • Is there financial aid available to offset some of the cost for the child and parents, like college grants?
  • Does the child have a relationship with the parent being asked to pay for the costs?
  • Does the child need college to obtain their future goals?

There is no hard and fast rule about how much contribution the parent has to make and no dollar amount that is appropriate without considering all of these factors.

What Happens If the Child is Emancipated?

A parent has the legal obligation to support their child until they are emancipated. That means that if the child is in college and is still under the age of 23, both parents must continue to provide financial contributions to the child according to the divorce decree or other child support documents issued by the court.

If the child receives emancipation, the parent no longer is under the obligation to pay these costs. Once the court considers the child emancipated, this requirement is eliminated.

Can You Request Modification If Your Child’s College Costs Is Not Covered in Your Divorce Decree?

As with any situation in which you need to make changes to a divorce decree or child support award, it is critical to do this in a formal process through the courts. If your documents do not provide that a parent will contribute to college expenses, then you can request that the court reconsider this and make changes to it.

Modifications can occur, but they can also be very challenging to obtain. For that reason, it is often best to work closely with a New Jersey divorce lawyer to ensure you have a full understanding of your rights and the legal strategies that may apply in your case.

Navigating Divorced and College Expenses in New Jersey

Many parents do not immediately realize that they remain required to pay college expenses for their child after they turn 18. If the child’s other parent fails to do so, and it is within the divorce decree, it is worth turning to a New Jersey family lawyer to pursue action against the non-paying parent. If they are not paying what should be considered fair, then you should also consider legal actions to get this adjustment in place.

Any time circumstances change in a divorce, whether your income drops or the other parent’s increases, reach out to a New Jersey divorce lawyer for hands-on support to learn what your legal rights and obligations are. This can change for various reasons throughout your child’s life. New jobs, moving across the country and even the decision of where your child goes to college can play a role in your ability to pay for these expenses on your own. Learn about your legal rights and how to support your child’s best outcome.

Contact Our Legal Team to Learn How We Can Help You

Contact Jersey Coast Family Law to discuss your child support situation. With offices in Toms River and Red Bank, we serve clients throughout New Jersey, providing exceptional legal support in difficult cases like this. Contact a New Jersey family lawyer now for guidance and clarity on what your financial obligations are. Call 732-361-4718 to discuss your case. We are Where Family Comes First.