The 1982 case of Newburgh v. Arrigo established the right of children to seek financial support from their divorced parents for the purpose of a college education. Since then, the family courts have generally ruled in favor of the children, citing that financially capable parents should provide their children with a post-secondary education. After all, most careers in this day and age require some form of higher education, with many professions requiring masters or doctorate degrees.
Most divorced parents are in full agreement with the courts concerning the value of a college education; what galls them is that they are legally obligated to pay for it. Adding to their frustration is the fact that married parents can flat out refuse to pay for college, and there's virtually nothing that their children can do about it. If a parent and child disagree on the choice of school, degree program, cost of tuition, etc., the parent can simply cut the child off, and the child would be forced to pay his or her own way.
Divorced parents are left to wonder how the courts justify this important, yet arguably optional form of support. Unfortunately, there's no good answer to this question in terms of the current statutes or case precedents. What the legal trends indicate is that New Jersey, by and large, has the most liberal child support laws in the country. Furthermore, the foundation of any child support case is the child's best interests, in conjunction with what the parents can reasonably provide. This policy works great with younger kids, but applying it to adult children who are largely out of their parent's sphere of influence doesn't seem quite fair. The courts do keep this in mind, which is why support for post-secondary education is decided on a case-by-case basis. Still, it's an inescapable fact that most divorced parents in New Jersey parents have been, and will continue to be responsible for providing a college education.
What parents owe their kids as a result of divorce is debatable, but the courts have to set basic standards according to what the average child needs. These standards, many of which do not apply to married parents, are often seen as a double standard meant to punish divorced parents. It's important to note, however, that the courts do not intervene unless they are asked to do so by the parent or child. Keeping the courts out of what should be a private discussion between you, your spouse and your child requires honesty, respect, and civil communication. You should also work with an experienced family law attorney, who can help you include terms for education costs in your divorce agreement. If your existing agreement doesn't include terms for college expenses, you should still speak to an attorney about your rights and legal options. The family law attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C. will be happy to advise you on all your child support concerns during a free initial consultation.