College contribution is a widely litigated topic in family law. Usually, one party either fails to pay for his or her share of college expenses as agreed to or an agreement allows this issue to “abide” the event. In other words, many people do not plan for this occurrence in their agreement. An experienced practitioner, will usually mandate that some language is included in an ultimate agreement to address this issue.

College costs and child support for an unemancipated child are generally considered as two distinct, but related obligations imposed on parents. The duty of parental support may include responsibility for the higher education costs of unemanicipated children. In evaluating the claim for contribution toward the cost of higher education, the Court will consider the following factors:

  • 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 parents, including mutual affection and shared goals as well as responsiveness to parental advice and guidance; and
  • The relationship of the education requested to any prior training and to the overall long-range goals of the child.

As with most family law matters, the determination whether a parent has an obligation to contribute to their child's college education is fact sensitive. It is important to give this issue the appropriate thought when negotiating your Marital Settlement Agreement, even if the children are very young, since the Court will generally enforce the terms of a Marital Settlement Agreement. Moreover, generally both parties will be required to contribute to higher educational costs absent an agreement to the contrary. Gourvitz & Gourvitz, LLC litigates and attempts to settle these types of cases on a daily basis.