The growth of college expenses and tuition has far outpaced the growth of the average person’s wages. Student loan debt affects the majority of young college students today, and it is no surprise that parents want to help ease the burden for their children. When couples divorce, and college is contemplated for their kids, it can be an issue as to who should be responsible for the costs associated with a university education. In a recent unpublished case, D.M v K.M, the New Jersey courts grappled with college expenses in a NJ divorce.
The parties had been married for seventeen years when they decided to file for divorce in December 2010. They had two children – a daughter, born in 1992, and a son, born in 1996. During the proceedings, the parties signed a property settlement agreement (PSA), which was incorporated into the final order of divorce. The PSA held that the couple would address payment of college expenses at the time their children would be attending, as well as requiring Plaintiff (the husband) to pay $100/week in child support. Each party also agreed to claim a tax exemption for one child each.
The parties’ daughter entered college, and the defendant paid the first three semesters, after which she filed a motion with the court requesting contribution from the plaintiff, as well as payment from him for future expenses. She alleges that Plaintiff contributed money from the children’s payroll checks into a college fund for the children, but actually used the money for his own purposes. He motion was dismissed, and she appealed. The appellate court held that the trial court improperly denied her motion based solely on the fact that defendant requested reimbursement after she paid expenses. The court remanded, and ordered the trial court to conduct a full Newburgh analysis. The Newburgh factors are used in family cases when analyzing college contribution claims, even though the case was actually a wrongful death action. The Newburgh case asserts that parents have the duty to provide a necessary education for children – even after they have reached the age of 18. Continue reading