Who Pays for a Child’s College Education After a Divorce?

As of 2021, the average annual cost of tuition for a full-time, in-state student in New Jersey was $13,963. With more and more employers requiring a college degree even for entry-level jobs, parents should expect that their children will attend college for at least four years. If you’re considering a divorce and you have one or more children, seeking consultation from a New Jersey family law attorney will help you understand how your child’s higher education will be paid for and by whom.

Higher Education Is a Necessity

While most states consider a child to be legally emancipated or financially independent of his or her parents at the age of 18, New Jersey is different. The state recognizes that a majority of high school graduates attend a four-year college or university on a full-time basis within one year of high school graduation. Because New Jersey law states that higher education is a necessity, much like medical care and food, it requires parents to pay child support for full-time students until the age of 23. This law also applies to students who attend a full-time vocational school or training program.

Adding College Payments to an Initial Child Support Agreement

During the process of divorce negotiation, many parents include arrangements for who bears the responsibility of paying for the child’s higher education. Putting this agreement in place during the divorce negotiation is easier and less stressful than trying to do it once the child turns 18 years old and is about to start college.

In New Jersey, the court determines the child’s age of emancipation to be 23 years. Child support payments will be made by the responsible party through that time. Child support payments are calculated based on the division of custody and each parent’s potential to earn. The court also considers other circumstances. For example, if the child’s mother was a stay-at-home mom and did not earn income before the divorce, she may receive higher child support payments because of her lower income earning potential.

Financial Resources of Each Parent

When calculating child support, courts look at each parent’s financial resources. Parents may need to provide W-2s and other income tax forms. They may also need to provide a statement from their employers. Self-employed parents might need to bring their business records as proof of income.

The courts also consider other financial resources. These include investments, real estate assets and a parent’s earning potential.

Calculating How Much College Will Cost

College tuition, room and board, and fees have increased at a rate higher than inflation since 1980. As of 2022, a four-year college degree at a public institution will cost a student in New Jersey at least $53,000 if tuition doesn’t increase. Students who attend a private college or university or an out-of-state educational institution will pay more.

Judges may determine that the parent who pays child support will pay for the child’s education based on the cost of an in-state, public school. However, judges have some leeway. If the child or parent is interested in a private or out-of-state college, the judge may factor that into the support calculation.

Other Factors Judges Consider When Determining Who Pays for College

Judges may also use other objective and subjective measures when determining financial responsibility for a child’s college education. These factors include:

  • The closeness of the child and parent who provides financial support
  • Any scholarships the child earns
  • The child’s ability to work while in college
  • Existing college savings accounts

If you’re in the process of getting divorced and you need guidance on determining how your child’s college education will be funded, it’s important to speak with a New Jersey family law attorney. The law office of Morgenstern & Rochester provides consultations to people considering divorce and those who need to modify their child support, spousal support or other divorce arrangements. Contact our Cherry Hill office by phone at (856) 489-6200, or fill out our online form, and an associate will be in touch with you soon.