In what would seem to be two sides of the same coin, two New Jersey courts have recently taken different stances on a parent’s obligation to pay for a child’s tuition. A Morris County superior court ruled that a couple did not have to pay for their daughter’s tuition for private high school and college. But in the same week, in another child support case, a New Jersey appellate panel ordered a child’s father to pay his share of expenses for his daughter to attend law school.
In both cases, there is some estrangement between the parties. In the Morris County case, the 18-year-old daughter no longer lives with her parents and was seeking financial support from them. In the other case, the daughter has reportedly been estranged from her father since her parents divorced and she no longer speaks to him.
When the second couple divorced in 2009, their divorce agreement required each parent to pay one-half of her law school expenses if she kept a “C” average. But the father later argued that, because his daughter took some time off between receiving her undergraduate degree and starting law school, he was not obligated to pay. He did offer to pay part of the expense if she went to Rutgers University, where he is a professor, but she opted to attend Cornell University instead. The judges agreed that there was nothing in the divorce decree that required her to choose a specific school, and that the father is still obligated to pay his share of the tuition.
The two cases illustrate a basic tenet of family law cases: every case is different according to the specific circumstances of the family. In the second case, it also demonstrates another rule of family law cases: once a legal agreement is made between the parties, it is difficult to change it later. In most cases, the party seeking to make the change must prove a substantial change in circumstances in order for the court to approve a modification. While, again, the result will vary from case to case, it is generally a high hurdle to clear. The most prudent course of action may be to consult with a New Jersey attorney who can help ensure that the terms of the divorce are appropriate when the divorce is granted, avoiding any need for future modifications.
Source: NJ.com, “NJ court orders divorced father to pay half of daughter’s pricey law school expense,” Jeff Goldman, March 5, 2014