How to Enforce a Divorce Decree for College Expenses According To New Jersey Divorce Law

By Beverly Bird

If you divorce when your children are in grade school, college costs might be the last thing on your mind. However, many divorcing parents address college expenses in their marital settlement agreements, called property settlement agreements in New Jersey. PSAs are then incorporated into enforceable divorce decrees. This doesn't guarantee, however, that circumstances won't change in the intervening years affecting parents' ability and willingness to pay.

If you divorce when your children are in grade school, college costs might be the last thing on your mind. However, many divorcing parents address college expenses in their marital settlement agreements, called property settlement agreements in New Jersey. PSAs are then incorporated into enforceable divorce decrees. This doesn't guarantee, however, that circumstances won't change in the intervening years affecting parents' ability and willingness to pay.

Terms of the Judgment

New Jersey is one of the more aggressive states in the country when it comes to enforcing divorce terms that provide for college costs. However, it's usually difficult at the time of your divorce to give the court something specific to enforce. If your child is young, you have no idea what school he'll eventually attend or what the tuition and costs will be at that time. Therefore, most property settlement agreements and divorce decrees – called divorce judgments in New Jersey – are somewhat vague regarding provisions for college. They might say that parents agree to contribute, but they rarely state to what extent or exactly how much. This usually results in parents going back to court to enforce and clarify provisions for expenses when college time arrives.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More

Factors

If your judgment is unclear as to exactly how you and your ex-spouse are going to pay for college, you can file a post-judgment motion with the court. This will typically result in a post-divorce trial, called a plenary hearing. During a plenary hearing, the judge will take testimony and review proof of each parent's current financial situation. Ultimately, the judge will decide what percentage of a student's college expenses each parent must pay. Some issues New Jersey courts consider include each parent's ability to contribute and whether your child has achieved grades that make it reasonable for him to pursue education beyond high school. Your child also has an obligation to contribute to his own college expenses by applying for grants, scholarships, student loans, or by working at least part-time.

Possible Defenses

Non-custodial parents often argue they had no voice in deciding what college their child attends. They may be obligated to help pay for a school they don't approve of and can't possibly afford. New Jersey courts have adopted the "Rutgers Rule" to deal with these situations. The Rutgers Rule can limit parents' contributions to the amount of tuition and costs a state university would charge, rather than a private school. For example, if you're enforcing the college terms of your judgment because your child wants to go to Yale, it's entirely possible that the court will cap your ex's contribution at what it would cost your child to attend Rutgers, especially if your ex does not have the ability to help finance an Ivy League education. A non-custodial parent might also argue that he hasn't been part of his child's life in recent years. If the parent has tried to maintain a relationship with his child but the child has rebuffed him, the court doesn't have to uphold or enforce the college provisions of your judgment.

College Costs vs. Child Support

If you go back to court to enforce the terms of your judgment, it may very well affect the amount of child support you receive as the custodial parent. Unless your ex is wealthy and can clearly afford to pay child support and contribute to college costs as well, a New Jersey court probably will not obligate him to do both. If the court orders him to contribute to college costs, this is often in lieu of paying child support. An exception might exist if your child is living at home and commuting to college, but even this must be decided by a judge on a case-by-case basis. New Jersey child support guidelines don't address support for children who have graduated from high school.

Divorce is never easy, but we can help. Learn More
Can a Part-Time College Student Over 18 Years Old Receive Child Support?

References

Related articles

Divorce & Changes in Circumstance in Massachusetts

Ideally, if a significant change occurs in your life, it will happen while you are in mid-divorce, so your eventual decree can adequately address it. This isn't usually the case, and Massachusetts allows spouses to modify the terms of their decrees after divorce to accommodate changes. However, unless you and your spouse agree to a modification by consent, Massachusetts judges require “substantial and material” changes in circumstance before they’ll issue a modification order. “Substantial” means the change must be big; “material” means it must directly relate to the provision you want to change.

Does Child Support Automatically Stop When a Child Turns 18 in Maryland?

Child support laws often confound parents because the finer points change from state to state and few universal, hard-and-fast rules exist. Child support might end at age 18 or not until age 21, depending on where you live. It might stop automatically when your child reaches a certain age or a milestone event, or you may have to take legal action to end your responsibility for paying it. Maryland's laws are a little more confusing than most because the state attempted legislation in 2011 that failed. As a result, some parents may not be sure what the current rules are.

Divorce Laws in California Regarding Education & Children

In the heat of divorce, issues of child custody and support are at the forefront of your mind. They must be resolved before you and your spouse can officially part ways, but your children have educational needs, too. These should be addressed in the divorce agreement as well, but it's not mandatory in California. You and your spouse can negotiate post-divorce terms for your children's education in a marital settlement agreement, or you can ask the court to decide these terms at trial. If you don't, the issue can be easily overlooked.

Get Divorced Online

Related articles

Child Support Questions & Answers

When parents of minor children divorce, one certainty is that their decree or judgment includes provisions for child ...

What Percentage Is Child Support Based On in Arkansas?

Of the many uncertainties involved with divorce, child support can be front and center. It will have a significant ...

Divorce & College Expenses

When parents divorce, the parent who is responsible for the day-to-day care and physical custody of the children (the ...

What Are Spouses Responsible for When Divorced?

Your relationship with your spouse doesn't always end when you divorce. You continue to have responsibilities to your ...

Browse by category