While most hearings over paying for college costs occur right before or during the child's enrollment, there have been cases where a motion for support wasn't filed until near or after the child's graduation. One of the more well-known cases involving post graduation support is Gac v. Gac, which was decided by the NJ Supreme Court in 2006. In its ruling, the Supreme Court noted how the mother had not filed her motion until the father sought to terminate support after the child's graduation. The main problem in waiting so long is that the father had no involvement in the child's educational decisions, nor had he any time to plan for such expenses, as he would have over four, or however many years the child was in school.
The plaintiff would have had a much better chance had their divorce agreement mentioned payment for college expenses. That was the case in Fletcher v. Euston, which was decided by the Appellate Division in 2013. Because the parents had agreed to split college costs in their original agreement, the trial court ordered the father to reimburse the mother $110,000 towards their children's college expenses. This case was even worse than Gac in that there were two children who had graduated, and the college expenses had been fully paid by the mother and her current husband. The appeals court seemed to have taken this into consideration, stating that “there was no effort to address the issue of college expenses with Fletcher before the children started college.” As a result, Fletcher was given no chance to participate in the children's educational choices, or make efforts to obtain grants or financial aid.
Still, the Appellate Division did not reverse the trial court's ruling since the parents did agree in the divorce agreement to share college costs according to their financial ability. They did, however, require the trial court to reexamine the amount owed by the father, and to consider factors such as the father's estrangement from the children, and the timing of the mother's support application. Timing is likely to be an even greater factor with the passing of the new child support termination guidelines as of February 2016. With stricter laws in place about when child support will end, parents will be held to tighter deadlines for requesting continued child support, as well as continued support for adult children.
The lesson here is that parents should work out a plan for college costs beforehand. It's best to include these terms in your divorce agreement, but you can still attempt to work out an arrangement afterwards, or file an application with the court. As you can see from the above examples, putting things off until your children graduate is not likely to work out in your favor, even if you are awarded compensation. For more information on planning for college expenses, or any other child support related concerns, please speak with the attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.