The dilemma over divorced parents being required to pay for their children's college education has been on-going for the past several decades, but one thing has been clearly established by the New Jersey family courts. A college education is essential in this day and age, and whenever possible, an adult child should receive support towards obtaining a college degree. This basic principle, however, encompasses a wide number of conditions that are not so black and white.
For example, what can a parent do about a child who is enrolled year after year, while making no discernible progress? If the parents are married, they would have the option to cut the child off until he or she gets back on track, but the issue is not so simple for divorced parents. The primary issue -- brought up as recent as February 2017 in the Caitlyn Ricci case -- is whether or not the child is truly emancipated. The answer to this question has evolved significantly in the past couple of generations, but it's been estimated that approximately 40% of young adults in the US are still living with their parents. Hence, it's understandable that the courts lean towards obligating divorce parents to help with their children's college costs.
However, there is a duty for the child to make reasonable progress while enrolled. By “reasonable”, it does not mean that a student can't take an extra semester to make up credits, or take an extra year to graduate because he decides to change majors. On the other hand, a child cannot just take his sweet time for no relevant reason, as was the case in Wesley v. Noor. In Wesley, the adult son had enrolled in a 2 year program at Cumberland County College in the Fall of 2008. By March 2011, the father filed to have the son emancipated, stating that he had still not graduated from the program. Furthermore, he believed that his son had not been enrolled as a full-time student since the end of 2010. The plaintiff (mother) agreed that he had taken some time off, but was making progress towards graduating sometime during the 2012-2014 Spring semester.
The trial court found the son's actions unreasonable, since he was not making “progress at an appropriate rate of speed” to justify requiring financial assistance from his father. While leaving room for an application to be filed if there was a change in circumstance, the trial judge ruled for the son's emancipation, as “The court cannot in good conscience require dad to keep paying support”. The key factor was that support may be required for up to four more years, while the son was taking twice as long to finish a basic, two year program. As you can see, the courts do recognize the burden on divorced parents when a child shows no interest or aptitude towards a college education. For more information on supporting your child through college, please speak with the attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.