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.
Husband 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.
The court also said that the child support arrangement should be altered, based on changes in the spouses’ income. It noted that both spouses were making about $75,000 at the time of the split, but Wife was now earning $225,000 a year, and Husband was taking in about $110,000. It ordered Wife to pay Husband just under $100 per month in child support.
Reversing the decision on appeal, the Superior Court said the trial judge didn’t go through the analysis required by law before altering the child support arrangement. The trial court properly referred to its Child Support Guidelines, which give courts some direction for resolving support issues in split-parenting situations, according to the Superior Court. That included noting that Daughter was living at school and then with her father in the summers, as well as the changes in incomes. Since Daughter was now in college and living at school, however, the Court said the trial judge also had to consider New Jersey Statute 2A:34-23. That law requires judges to look at a number of specific factors, including the child’s needs, the parents’ incomes, living standards, earning abilities, ages, health, assets, and other factors. As a result, the Court remanded the case back to the trial judge with instructions to consider those factors.
As this case makes clear, a person considering a divorce should consult an experienced attorney before proceeding and definitely before entering into any settlement or other agreements. The New Jersey child support attorneys at Helfand & Associates have more than 100 years of combined experience representing clients in a wide range of divorce, child custody, and child support cases. Our lawyers work diligently to ease the stress on clients in what can be a trying process by building persuasive cases for the people whom we represent.
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.