College Students and Child Support

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Does a child’s attendance at college away from home warrant a reduction of child support?  This question was the basis for a recent Opinion by the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court.  In Jacoby v. Jacoby, 427 N.J. Super 109 (App. Div. 2012),  the appellate panel ruled that while a child’s attendance at college is a change in circumstances warranting a review of child support, there is no presumption that the obligation is lessened.

Mr. and Ms. Jacoby had two children. Following their parents’  divorce, the older child matriculated at the University of West Virginia which led to Mr. Jacoby’s to seek a reduction of child support.  The trial court agreed.  A few years later, the younger child enrolled at a college in Kentucky. Mr. Jacoby made a second application to reduce child support. The case was heard by a different Judge who declined to use the former Judge’s calculations but recalculated child support under the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines, a ruling from which Mr. Jacoby appealed. The Appellate Division held that while the second Judge was not bound to follow the same formula, application of the Child Support Guidelines was incorrect since the child was no longer living at home during most of the year. Instead, the Court held that child support should be set “in light of all of the financial circumstances of the parties and the children”. This did not mean, however (as Mr. Jacoby contended), that because the children  were living on-campus, child support must be reduced. Instead, the Court placed the onus on Mr. Jacoby to demonstrate how each child’s needs have lessened since attending college. In other words, while some expenses may have lessened in such categories as room and board, others may have remained the same or even increased, such as furniture, clothing, luggage, supplies, toiletries and the like (this list was not intended to be exhaustive) Furthermore, a child’s financial aid package may serve to reduce certain expenses. Finally, the Court ruled that in appropriate cases,  a parent could make support payments directly to the child instead of to the other parent.

For many years, many divorced parents and lawyers have operated on the presumption that if a child leaves home to go to college, child support must be reduced. The Jacoby case lays that presumption to rest. At best, leaving for college is a change in circumstances which will impact child support  depending on the facts. Further, Jacoby appears to be the first case which lends support the concept of a parent paying child support to his or her child at college directly.  It will be interesting to see how this area of the law evolves as courts are called upon to decide such matters.

John Eory is the Co-Chair of Stark & Stark's Divorce Group in the Lawrenceville, New Jersey office. For questions, please contact Mr. Eory.
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