Paying for U: Who, if Anyone, Has to Cover College Costs Post- Divorce?

Paying for U- Who, if Anyone, Has to Cover College Costs Post-DivorceHigh school seniors in New York, New Jersey, and across the country soon will be anxiously waiting by their mailboxes (or refreshing their email in-boxes) in hopes of getting notified that they have been accepted into their dream college.

Of course, parents will be hanging on this decision as well, since they will have to pay for the often astronomical and exponentially rising costs of a college education for their child.

When parents get divorced - whether their child is in elementary school or is about to receive their high school diploma - the issue as to who should contribute to college tuition, room, board, books, and other expenses can become a contentious and financially significant one.

If the parents cannot agree on payment of college expenses, New York courts can order a parent to contribute to those costs “where the court determines, having regard for the circumstances of the case and of the respective parties and in the best interests of the child, and as justice requires, that the present or future provision of post-secondary, private, special, or enriched education for the child is appropriate.” Domestic Relations Law § 240(1-b)(c)(7).

In making such a determination, a court will look at a number of factors including:

  • the best interests of the child;
  • the ability of the parent or parents to pay;
  • the parents’ educational background;
  • the child's education background, academic ability and academic efforts;
  • the type of college that would be most suitable for the child.

As with almost every aspect of divorce, a voluntary agreement as to college costs is preferable to an obligation imposed by a judge. When working through the issue, divorcing parents often utilize what is called the “SUNY cap” to divide and limit the amount of their respective contributions to their child’s college education to a percentage of the cost of a State University of New York (SUNY) school.

While courts will typically enforce an agreed-upon SUNY cap, they will not impose one in the absence of such an agreement.

As if the issue of how to pay for college was not complex enough, consideration must be had with respect to allocating contributions after the application of financial aid, student loans, scholarships and grants.

If you have questions or concerns about your child’s college costs or any other issues regarding child support, please call Clement Law at (212) 683-9551 or fill out our online form to arrange for a consultation.

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