This is part three of a four-part series. To read the first article, click here.

The Case that May Excuse Divorced Parents from Paying College Tuition

A New Jersey parent might wonder: is there any scenario where a noncustodial parent can be excused from making college contributions? There is one case that might be used to argue against mandatory college tuition assistance.

Gac v. Gac

The Gac v. Gac (2006) case delivered a momentous decision that noncustodial parents do not always have to contribute toward college costs.

The case involved a daughter estranged from her father (the noncustodial parent), despite his one-sided attempts to maintain the relationship. The family dynamic was complicated and involved a history of abusive conduct on the part of the father.

The daughter did not consult him before selecting Quinnipiac College, an expensive private school that far exceeded the cost of Rutgers. The daughter indicated on her financial aid applications that her father was “not a part of her life, he was not assisting her in financing her college education, and his whereabouts were unknown.”

The court took the following facts into consideration:

  • Defendant was excluded from participating in decisions pertaining to his daughter’s college education
  • Plaintiff and daughter chose a relatively expensive private college rather than available New Jersey or Vermont institutions
  • Daughter did not seek summer employment during several of the years she attended college
  • There may have been additional grants available that would have defrayed a portion of the daughter’s college expenses
  • Plaintiff did not seek reimbursement of the daughter’s student loans during the years these obligations were incurred, thus possibly impairing defendant’s ability to make sound financial judgments

The court ruled the father did not have to pay college costs. The rationale was based on the timing of the motion, not the deterioration of the father/daughter relationship. 

The child’s mother did not file a motion for college expense contributions until the daughter had already graduated. There is a possibility the father would have been mandated to pay college expenses if the motion had been filed earlier.    

According to the ruling:

“… if Alyssa wanted financial assistance from her father, she could have made the request before she incurred her college expenses. Neither plaintiff nor Alyssa made such a request until after defendant sought to terminate child support, and Alyssa had graduated from college.

The failure of both plaintiff and Alyssa to request that defendant assist in paying Alyssa’s educational expenses at a time that would have enabled defendant to participate in Alyssa’s educational decision as well as to plan for his own financial future weighs heavily against ordering him to contribute to her educational expenses after her education was completed.”

College Financial Obligations Are Determined Case-By-Case in New Jersey

In each of these case law examples, the judge depended heavily on the individual facts of the case. For this reason, tuition support decisions can vary widely in New Jersey. The ground is constantly shifting under the issue’s legal precedent.

All parents getting a divorce must include language in their final judgement or property settlement agreement that outlines the responsibility of each parent to fund their children’s college education. If you do not consult a divorce attorney to get this done correctly, it could cost you big money in the long run.

Are Divorced Parents Responsible for Paying Grad School and Professional School Tuition?

Great question. We answer this question in the final post of our four-part series on tuition and child support in New Jersey.

You can read it here.