New Jersey children suing their parents for college costs have been in the news frequently in recent months. Many parents are unaware of the law in New Jersey which derives from a 1982 NJ Supreme Court case called Newburgh v. Arrigo, 88 N.J. 529 (1982). The case creates factors a court should look at when determining whether the divorcing parents of a child are responsible for paying for college. Here are pertinent quotes from the decision regarding the reasoning behind divorcing parents funding college:
In general, emancipation is the act by which a parent relinquishes the right to custody and is relieved of the duty to support a child.
Generally parents are not under a duty to support children after the age of majority. Nonetheless, in appropriate circumstances, the privilege of parenthood carries with it the duty to assure a necessary education for children. Frequently, the issue of that duty arises in the context of a divorce or separation proceeding where a child, after attaining majority, seeks contribution from a non-custodial parent for the cost of a college education. In those cases, courts have treated “necessary education” as a flexible concept that can vary in different circumstances.
In the past, a college education was reserved for the elite, but the vital impulse of egalitarianism has inspired the creation of a wide variety of educational institutions that provide post-secondary education for practically everyone.
Some parents cannot pay, some can pay in part, and still others can pay the entire cost of higher education for their children. In general, financially capable parents should contribute to the higher education of children who are qualified students. In appropriate circumstances, parental responsibility includes the duty to assure children of a college and even of a postgraduate education such as law school.
The case most recently in the news involves Caitlyn Ricci suing her divorced parents to pay for her college expenses. The court awarded her payment for community college and she now heads to Temple University. Payments for Temple’s $16,000 costs were not decided by the court. This case is heartbreaking not only in that a child is suing her parents but that the parents are also at odds with the grandparents who are supporting Caitlyn. I hope for all involved, they are able to work out their differences. Life is too short. Perhaps therapy or family mediation would be helpful to the Riccis.
The other notable recent case was the Canning matter. Rachel Canning sued her still married parents for college expenses after she moved out of the parent’s house. The court denied her claim for immediate assistance. She later reconciled with her parents, dropped her lawsuit and is attending college on scholarship.
These are issues we discuss during a divorce mediation, when appropriate. If you want to consider using mediation to save time and money during your divorce, please contact me.