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Settlement Agreements, Education Expenses in New Jersey Divorce Cases – Ferrara v. Ferrara

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.


Affirming the decision on appeal, the Superior Court said Husband was obligated to pay the expenses under the terms of the settlement agreement that he signed. “The bilateral nature of this contract requires the parents to honor their financial commitment consistent with the standard set forth in their PSA,” the Court explained. Noting that a trial judge has “substantial discretion” in setting contribution rates, the Court further concluded that the decision about how to split the obligation appeared to be based on substantial evidence. Finally, the Court also denied Husband’s appeal of an order requiring him to continue to pay child support. The Court said there was no presumption that Daughter’s need for the support had decreased just because she was now in college.

It is vital that a person considering a divorce or grappling with support and related legal issues seek the counsel and advice of a seasoned family law attorney. The New Jersey child 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.


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