College Contribution: A Contrarian View

By Carolyn N. Daly


N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23, the statue governing the support of children, provides in pertinent part as follows:

Pending any matrimonial action or action for dissolution of a civil union brought in this State or elsewhere, or after judgment of divorce or dissolution or maintenance, whether obtained in this State or elsewhere, the court may make such order … as to the care, custody, education and maintenance of the children, or any of them, as the circumstances of the parties and the nature of the case shall render fit, reasonable and just … (Emphasis added)
Nothing in this statute mandates that a parent contribute to the college education of a child. However, having said that, you have undoubtedly encountered this misconception. Much of the case law that has developed on this issue is not particularly helpful in arguing against, at a minimum, some contribution. Yet, the fact remains that neither the current statutes, nor case law, automatically require a parent to contribute to, let alone pay the full costs of, a college education. When one considers that the cost of a college education can easily exceed $20,000 per year at a public four-year college and $50,000 per year at a private four-year college in New Jersey1 many parents, particularly those who have gone through a divorce, are not in a financial position to afford this substantial expense. The presumed resolution in most cases is simply to have the parties share the responsibility for the child’s college education in proportion to their respective
incomes, often without regard for the cost and actual ability of the parties to pay. This
presumption must be challenged.


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