Child support obligation in New Jersey may extend past age 18

The case of a New Jersey teen who sued her parents for child support, past due high school tuition and future college expenses recently ended when the teen dropped the lawsuit. The situation garnered a lot of attention in New Jersey and across the country, raising questions about whether a parent is legally responsible for paying for an adult child's education.

The Canning case was unique in that the teen brought the lawsuit herself against her parents, claiming abuse as part of the reason she had to leave her parent's home. However, whether a parent must pay for college expenses is often part of a divorce proceeding when the couple has children.

In New Jersey, state child support guidelines usually govern how much a non-custodial parent must pay in support. However, these guidelines are only applicable to minor children or adult children with a disability. Whether a parent must help pay for college, and how much, depends highly upon the individual circumstances of the couple seeking to dissolve their marriage.

Current state law

The New Jersey Supreme Court weighed in on the issue over 30 years ago in Newburgh v. Arrigo. The justices determined that in appropriate circumstances "financially capable parents should contribute to the higher education of children who are qualified students." The state's highest court went on to define several factors a court should consider when awarding child support for higher education costs. These factors include:

  • Whether the parent, if still living with the child, would have contributed toward the costs of the requested higher education
  • The effect of the background, values and goals of the parent on the reasonableness of the expectation of the child for higher education
  • The amount of the contribution sought by the child for the cost of higher education
  • The ability of the parent to pay that cost
  • The relationship of the requested contribution to the kind of school or course of study sought by the child
  • The financial resources of both parents
  • The commitment to and aptitude of the child for the requested education
  • The financial resources of the child, including assets owned individually or held in custodianship or trust
  • The ability of the child to earn income during the school year or on vacation
  • The availability of financial aid in the form of college grants and loans
  • The child's relationship to the paying parent, including mutual affection and shared goals as well as responsiveness to parental advice and guidance
  • The relationship of the education requested to any prior training and to the overall long-range goals of the child

Several years after the case, New Jersey amended its child support statute to include many of these same factors a judge should consider when deciding child support for higher education.

Help when establishing child support

Many issues in a divorce can become contested, not least among them the amount and duration of child support. Residents of New Jersey contemplating divorce should contact an experienced family law attorney to discuss their legal options.