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Articles Posted in Educational Expenses

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A recent unpublished New Jersey Appellate Division case has dealt with the parents’ obligations for the payment of college-related costs and expenses when one party has decided she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.

When a couple with kids decides to divorce, they often consider how they might pay for their children’s potential college costs down the road. In New Jersey, a parent’s responsibility to pay child support and college expenses past the child’s 18th birthday is standard. However, As New Jersey’s Superior Court recently explained, the law requires courts to follow specific procedures in considering the arrangement.

school kidsHusband and Wife divorced in 2002, following more than nine years of marriage. They entered into a settlement agreement as part of the divorce, under which the couple agreed to share legal and physical custody of their two daughters. They also initially agreed that Husband would pay Wife about $140 a month in child support, and they later agreed to kick that amount up to $800 per month in 2009. The agreement further provided that each former spouse would be equally on the hook for their kids’ net college expenses, or the expenses after any available financial assistance like loans, grants, and scholarships.

The former spouses wound up back in court after a dust up over their oldest daughter’s college expenses in the fall of 2012. Daughter was awarded an extensive financial assistance package from her school, but additional loans were also required to make up the difference. A trial court granted in part Husband’s request to modify the child support arrangement. The court found that a certain PLUS loan being used to finance part of Daughter’s schooling was only available to parents and that Husband and Wife were jointly responsible for paying it.

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Settlement agreements often offer divorcing spouses an opportunity to resolve many or all of the issues related to their split in an effective and mutually agreeable way. It is important to remember that these are legal documents, however, and that they should be carefully crafted by an experienced family law attorney. A recent case out of New Jersey’s Superior Court makes that clear.

graduationHusband and Wife divorced in 2011, following some 14 years of marriage in which the couple had three kids. They entered into a property settlement agreement as part of the divorce. Husband and Wife acknowledged in the agreement that each was obligated to contribute toward their children’s future college expenses. The agreement noted that the couple had set up certain savings accounts to cover some of those expenses, as well as a portion of each child’s tuition. It stated that the remaining expenses would be paid proportionately, based on income and assets.

Wife returned to court in 2014, alleging that Husband had failed to live up to his end of the bargain and seeking an order to require him to pay more of their daughter’s (Daughter’s) college expenses. The judge instead ordered Daughter to pay $5,000 worth of the expenses herself and told Husband and Wife to split the remaining costs.

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When a married couple decides to divorce, one of the many issues that often comes up is how they’ll pay for their kids’ education. New Jersey’s Superior Court recently took on this issue in a case concerning a young woman’s costs for medical school. As the Court explained, the answer varies based on the individual circumstances of each case, what the former spouses agreed to do, and who they agree to have resolve any differences.

graduate schoolWife filed for divorce from Husband in 1996, following 14 years of marriage in which the couple had three kids. The legal proceedings stretched on for several years, during which no less than eight different judges issued a total of 30 orders. The spouses later agreed to arbitrate all of the issues related to alimony, child support, and the expenses of the children’s education. They also agreed to be bound by the arbitrator’s decision, subject to limited court review.

The arbitrator eventually found that the couple’s oldest daughter was “emancipated” in October 2009 because she was 23 years old at the time and was working full time. The arbitrator therefore reduced Husband’s child support obligation by one third. The arbitrator also said, however, that Husband would still be responsible for half of Daughter’s graduate school expenses if she decided to continue her education. The state family court disagreed. It voided the part of the arbitrator’s order in which he found that each parent was responsible for half of Daughter’s graduate school expenses. Although Daughter was in medical school by the time the court issued its ruling, the judge said the arbitrator exceeded his authority by forcing the parents to cover expenses after Daughter became emancipated in 2009.

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Outside of Court with a Settlement Agreement, divorcing spouses can efficiently and effectively resolve some or all of the issues related to their divorce. The contracts allow the spouses to decide between themselves how assets will be divided, custody will be handled, and any support payments will be calculated, rather than leaving these questions to a judge. It’s important to remember that, once you sign an agreement, you are responsible for living up to it. That was the main takeaway from a recent Superior Court decision in which the court enforced an agreement requiring former spouses to pay for their child’s college expenses. old-books-1057004

Mother and Father divorced in 2001, following roughly eight years of marriage in which the couple had one daughter. They entered into a settlement agreement as part of the divorce, under which the former spouses agreed to split the costs for Daughter’s post-high-school education proportionately. The obligation, according to the agreement, was to be based on each parent’s gross income, as determined by tax returns and other forms of verification.

Unfortunately, the Court said Father and Daughter did not have much of a relationship after the divorce. Although they were ordered to attend counseling sessions, those fizzled out while the Daughter was in high school. She was later accepted to an engineering school, and the Wife went back to court asking a judge to force Husband to pay his share of the expenses. Husband responded by filing a motion to compel Daughter to go to a less expensive school. The trial court eventually ordered Husband to pay 77 percent of the college costs, based on his gross income.

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