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Are Parents Obligated to Cover College Expenses?

College Fund

The Parental Duty to Support Children

By law, parents have a duty to provide support to their children, covering necessities such as food, shelter, education, and medical care. This duty stems from the legally recognized parent-child relationship and exists independently of the marital status of the child’s parents. As a result, the parental duty for supporting one’s children continues despite the fact that the child’s parents got divorced.

This duty is the reason why the issue of child support plays a significant role in divorce cases involving marriages with minor children. In particular, when one parent is awarded sole custody of their child, the noncustodial parent’s duty to support their children is usually fulfilled by making child support payments to the custodial parent.

The parental duty to financially support a child remains in effect until the child reaches the age of 18—at which point the child is legally presumed to have the capacity to manage their own financial affairs.

Historically, parents were not legally obligated the support their children through college after they turn 18. However, as the significance of a college education grew over the years, the scope of expectations for a parent to cover their child’s college expenses shifted accordingly.

New Jersey Law Regarding Parental Support of a Child’s College Education

Although most states continue to recognize that a parent’s duty to support their children automatically terminates when they reach the age of 18, New Jersey is one of the leading states in a legal movement recognizing the need for divorced parents to contribute to their child’s higher educational needs.

In New Jersey, the presumption that a child effectively becomes an adult capable of managing their financial affairs after turning 18 has been called into question. As a result, children of the age of 18 are not automatically considered to be emancipated for the care of their parents.

Accordingly, New Jersey courts have held that “financially capable parents should contribute to the higher education of children who are qualified students.”

In the seminal case of Hoefers v. Jones, the Superior Court of New Jersey established the following criteria for determining issues concerning a parent’s responsibility for covering their children’s college expenses:

  • “Ability of non-custodial parent to pay.
  • Past attendance of one or both parents at that or a similar private school.
  • Whether children were attending private school pre or post divorce.
  • Prior agreement of non-custodial parent to pay, to send children to private school.
  • Religious background of the parties, their children.
  • Are special educational, psychological and/or special needs of child met, advanced by such private schooling?
  • Generally, is it in the child's best interest to attend, or to continue to attend, private school (is the academic environment in child's best interest?).
  • Whether court order or agreement of parties prefers specific right of school choice on residential custodial parent.
  • Were actions of residential custodial parent to enroll or to continue to enroll the children reasonable under the circumstances?
  • Is such private school tuition permitted or authorized as part of that state child support guidelines, or by other law(s)?
  • Ability of the child to respond, prosper from this educational experience; will such schooling be of particular benefit to him or her?
  • Lack of present, past non-custodial parental involvement in children's education.
  • Degree of involvement of the custodial parent in children's education (is it extensive?)
  • Is residential custodial parent's views, desires consistent with past practices regarding private school education?”

Consult Our Attorneys at DeTommaso Law Group, LLC for Legal Advice

Do you have questions or concerns regarding your legal rights and responsibilities when it comes to providing your children with continuing financial support as they pursue a college education? If so, you should consult a dedicated and experienced New Jersey family law attorney at DeTommaso Law Group, LLC. Our legal team has the experience and extensive knowledge of contemporary New Jersey family law issues, including matters concerning child support.

To schedule a free initial consultation about your case, call us at (908) 274-3028 or contact us online today.