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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.

 

That’s when the Superior Court’s appellate division weighed in. The Court sided with the arbitrator, finding that he acted within his authority in requiring the parents to split Daughter’s graduate school expenses. It noted that New Jersey courts give “considerable deference” to arbitration orders because state public policy “favors arbitration as a means of settling disputes that otherwise would be litigated in a court.”

In this case, the Court said the scope of the arbitrator’s authority was laid out in Husband and Wife’s agreement to arbitrate certain issues. That agreement specifically gave the arbitrator the power to determine the “allocation of expenses for college and graduate/professional school for the three children,” according to the Court. “Nothing in the consent order hinged the arbitrability of that issue on whether the children were emancipated or unemancipated,” the Court said. “Thus, neither the arbitrator nor the appellate arbitrator exceeded his authority…”

The Court also declined to consider Husband’s argument that the arbitration award violated laws developed in the courts that have previously found parents not responsible for the education expenses of an emancipated child. “Absent an agreement by the parties to an expanded standard of judicial review, courts must apply the standard of judicial review normally applicable to private arbitration, under which a court may not vacate an award even though it might be based on a mistake of law,” the Court said. As a result, the Court remanded the case back to the family court with instructions to order Husband to pay half of Daughter’s education expenses.

The New Jersey child support and custody lawyers at Helfand & Associates have more than 100 years of combined experience representing clients in a wide range of divorce, child custody, and support cases. Our lawyers work diligently to ease the stress on clients in what can be a trying process by building the strongest possible cases for the people whom we represent. Tanya N. Helfand, Esq., is a Certified Matrimonial Attorney of New Jersey.

Our offices are conveniently located in Whippany and New York City. We are happy to offer clients a free consultation in family law and other cases. Contact us online, call our New Jersey office at (973) 428-0800, or call our New York City office at (646) 213-9053 to set up an appointment with one of our attorneys.

 

Our Offices
  • Whippany Office
    575 Route 10 East
    Suite 1
    Whippany, New Jersey 07981
    Phone: 973-428-0800
    Fax: 973-428-0830
  • New York Office
    420 Lexington Ave.
    New York, New York 10170
    Phone: 646-213-9053
Testimonials
  • "Without Tanya and her time, the really unpleasant experience of getting divorced would have been even worse. They were able to settle the matter very quickly and helped me fit this into my tight schedule allowing me to leave to move abroad for my dissertation research on time without having to delay the trip because of the divorce. They also did all of it within my very tight budget. Thank you so much for your help and dedication to my legal matter!"  - AG

  • "Tanya and her Associates are outstanding! What I admire most about Tanya is her knowledge of the law with her keen negotiation skills to foster mediation. Her strategies efficiently resolve conflict leading to the resolution of cases. She and her team have an outstanding work ethic, know what data are needed, and get the job done. It is a pleasure to work with such wonderful professionals."  - Tara, Whippany

  • "I found Ms. Helfand's knowledge and tenacity most reassuring during the ordeal of my divorce. She was steadfast in her guidance and was very effective in her negotiations on my behalf. I would recommend her without a second thought."  -Jonathan

  • "Ms. Helfand was very professional and helpful with our bankruptcy case. Her advice was very useful and helped us make the proper decisions for our situation. In addition, she was very supportive during a very difficult time for us. Finally, she set very specific fee expectations and there were no surprises when it was completed. I would use her services again and would recommend her, without question."

  • "She is Incredible, very quick responding to the other party. Very professional and courteous. I highly recommend her. She has a great passion and love for every single case."

  • "Tanya and her team were very professional handling my divorce proceedings. She was very proactive in making the other attorney finally get the process moving forward. I would recommend her to anyone looking for legal services."  -Scott

  • "Ms. Helfand strategized & processed, both, my Divorce & Chapter 13 Bankruptcy. As both cases were emotionally and legally challenging, Ms. Helfand proved to be an empowering Mentor along the path to clarity for which I am truly grateful.I highly recommend her legal expertise to anyone who is seeking a confident, savvy & caring attorney to become at peace with self and any legal matters."  -Vas

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