New Jersey is among a minority of states that require divorced or separated parents to fund their children’s higher education expenses.
Since the case of Nebel v. Nebel, 103 N.J. Super. 216 (App. Div. 1968), the New Jersey Courts have found that financially able parents must contribute to their children’s college expenses. In that case, the Court allowed the custodial mother to select a private college on behalf of her son, but determined the father’s contribution based on tuition at state universities. In Finger v. Zenn, 335 N.J. Super. 438 (App. Div. 2000) the Court overturned Nebel in part, and held that the contribution of financially capable parents ought to be calculated on the tuition at the university in which the child is actually enrolled, whether public or private.
The Court, in Newburgh v. Arrigo, 88 N.J. 529 (1982), delineated the specific criteria to be considered in determining whether parents are legally obligated to fund higher education expenses:
• Whether the parent, if still living with the child, would have contributed toward the costs of the requested higher education;
• The effect of the background, values and goals of the parent on the reasonableness of the expectation of the child for higher education;
• The amount of the contribution sought by the child for higher education;
• The ability of the parent to pay that cost;
• The relationship of the requested contribution to the kind of school or course of study sought by the child; • The financial resources of both parents;
• The commitment to and aptitude of the child for the requested education;
• The financial resources of the child, including assets owned individually or held in custodianship or trust;
• The ability of the child to earn income during the school year or on vacation;
• The availability of financial aid in the form of college grants and loans;
• The child’s relationship to the paying parent, including mutual affection and shared goals as well as responsiveness to parental advice and guidance;
• The relationship of the education requested to any prior training and to the overall long-range goals of the child; and
• Contribution made to household expenses by the current spouse of either parent [Hudson v. Hudson, 315 N.J. Super. 577 (App. Div. 1998)].
Generally, Courts will hold all financially able parents responsible for contributing to the college expenses of qualified students. However, in instances where children have had no relationship with a parent, and the parent is not involved in the child’s decision to attend college and where, Courts have held that parent not responsible for the child’s higher education expenses. For example, in Moss v. Nedas, 289 N.J. Super. 352 (App. Div. 1996), the Court refused to hold the father responsible for any portion of his daughter’s college expenses after finding that she had excluded him from all of the decisions leading up to her enrollment.
The responsibility to contribute to higher education expenses may not end with the completion of a four-year college program. In Ross v. Ross, 167 N.J. Super. 441 (Ch. Div. 1979), the Court required the father to continue child support payments for his daughter until she completed law school.
The responsibility also does not end with the death of a parent. In Kiken v. Kiken, 149 N.J. 441 (1997), the Court held the father’s estate responsible for contributing to his son’s undergraduate college expenses.