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Back to School Woes

It’s almost back-to-school time and many area students rely on their parents to cover all of their college-related costs that remain after scholarships, grants, and loans. This can be a very stressful situation for kids and parents, particularly those in divorced families committed to contributing to their child’s college costs. There will be some parent who will decide that he/she is unhappy with that commitment and will often leave the child in a lurch while the two parents argue as to how the costs will be covered.

A recent unpublished New Jersey Appellate Division case has dealt with the parents’ obligations for the payment of college-related costs and expenses when one party has decided she doesn’t want to follow the terms of the parties’ Property Settlement Agreement (PSA). In Polcari v. Polcari, Docket No. A-3538-14, the Court not only evaluated the factors under Newburgh v. Arrigo, 88 N.J. 529 (1982), and N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23, the Court found that a plenary hearing “was not necessary in light of the specified terms of the PSA and the certified financial information the parties had submitted.”

The Trial Court had allocated, by percentages, the amount each parent was to be responsible for based strictly on their respective incomes. The Appellate panel found that, considering the circumstances, the findings were fair and just.

The Court concluded that the “allocation of college expenses was fair and consistent with the law, the factual record, and the parties’ PSA. The parties agreed in the PSA to each contribute to their children’s college expenses (after scholarships, grants, and loans), and to have those contributions allocated based upon their ‘assets and income at that [future] time.’ This mutual contractual commitment in a PSA by divorcing spouses presumptively should be enforced.”

The major point is that the Court saw no reason in this case to disturb the provision in the PSA related to the parties’ respective commitments to college-related costs and expenses and reinforced that it was, in fact, binding and enforceable. As a matter of fact, the Court’s determination made it clear that, based on the facts in the case, a plenary hearing would be an unnecessary burden that was “unlikely to lead to a different result” and avoiding such a hearing would be “providing a swifter outcome that resolved the son’s uncertain situation about his parents’ ongoing duties to contribute to his college costs.”

Another issue parties should consider is the cost of litigating the matter as opposed to simply using those funds toward the costs of the child’s education. Long, drawn-out litigation will often come at a hefty price tag that would probably be better-served going toward tuition. However, quite often, settlements are often unattainable if both parties are not of the same mindset.

It is extremely important when pursuing litigation to be practical. How much can it cost? What is the possible benefit? What is the possible harm to you and the kids?

If you have questions or seek advice regarding contributions to your child’s college-related cost and expenses, please contact us for a free ½ hour consultation.

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