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

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

A noncustodial parent’s obligation to pay for a child’s graduate school degree continues to be a very murky area in New Jersey family law. Not many cases provide legal precedent on the issue.

However, divorced parents have been ordered by the court to make financial contributions toward a child’s graduate education in New Jersey. A ruling on graduate school support would depend heavily on the individual facts of the case. The court would likely take the following criteria into consideration:  

  • Whether the child is emancipated
  • Whether the child has a job
  • The age of the child
  • The 12 factors of the Newburgh v. Arrigo case

While the Newburgh factors would be considered, the burden of proof angles in the opposite direction for graduate school cases.

For undergraduate college, the burden of proof is on the defendant (aka. the noncustodial parent) to prove it would be unfair and unnecessary to make tuition contributions.

In the case of graduate school, the burden of proof is on the seeker of support to prove there are exceptional circumstances requiring the defendant to help pay for the degree.

The New Jersey family court system typically believes college graduates are more independent and self-sufficient. A college degree should make it easier to obtain full-time employment while earning the graduate degree part-time on nights, weekends, or online. College graduates are also more capable to apply for financial aid and loans.

If a judge did decide to rule in favor of the support seeker, it would be considered a form of financial support entirely separate from child support.

Be Aware: New Jersey Child Support Rules Changed in 2017

As of February 2017, noncustodial parents are excused from paying child support after the child turns 23 years of age (N.J.S.A. 2A:17-56.67). Child support payments could terminate as early as age 19, though the courts will often order extensions to age 23 for full-time college students. There are few exceptions to this rule.

It Pays to Plan for College Funding

Divorced parents are not held to the same legal and financial expectations as married parents. It’s not fair, but it is the reality of the situation. To avoid battling it out with your ex-spouse (or children) in court, your final judgement of divorce should include a plan for college funding.

College funding agreements can be negotiated outside of court using an arbitration, mediation, or collaborative approach. This saves both parties time and money.

It also preserves family relationships. When parents and children have a written agreement outlining the financial responsibilities of each party, they have the structure of the agreement to guide their behavior during moments of disagreement.

Arons & Solomon can help you make a college funding agreement that gives all members of your family peace of mind.