Divorce FAQ's

Paying Support for Children Once They Turn 18

1. I am a divorced father of an eighteen-year son who now lives in New Jersey. I used to live in New Jersey. However, I moved to Texas once I split from my ex-wife. I now pay a $150 per week New Jersey child support order. In Texas child support ends when the child reaches the age of 18 or when they graduate from high school, whichever occurs later. Does New Jersey also have similar child support laws?

Many web surfers are shocked when they learn that their legal obligation to support of their children continues well past their 18th birthday. In the majority of the cases, parents are legally required to pay child support and also a large share of their children’s college costs, after their children turn eighteen.

New Jersey has the most liberal child support and college contribution laws in the nation. At least New Jersey is first in something! The majority of the states have a bright line rule, and children are considered emancipated once they turn eighteen years of age. Thus, parents have no legal obligation to pay child support after a child turns 18 years of age, or graduates from high school. Moreover, most states also do not legally require a parent to contribute to pay for their children’s college education.

Any New Jersey parent who is entangled family court system, whether because they are divorced, separated or have never been married but have children together, will be shocked when they are advised that their support obligations for their children will extend beyond high school. However, their children must be attending college, vocational, technical or any other post high school education on a full-time basis.

2. How does a family court determine child support and college contribution once a child is attending college?

The court will analyze two major factors to determine child support for any children who are attending college. The first major factor is each parent’s contribution to the child’s cost of college. The second major factor is the amount child support that is due and owing to the custodial parent.

When a court determines a parent’s legal responsibility to contribute to college, the court must analyze the following twelve factors (Also known as the Newburgh factors):

a. Whether the parent, if still living with the child, would have contributed toward the costs of the schooling.

b. The effect of the background, values and goals of the parent on the reasonableness of the expectation of the child for higher education.

c. The amount of the contribution sought by the child for the cost of higher education.

d. The ability of the parent to pay the cost.

e. The relationship of the required contribution to the kind of school or course of study sought by the child.

f. The financial resources of both parents.

g. The commitment to and aptitude of the child for the requested education.

h. The financial resources of the child, including assets owned individually or held in custodianship or trust.

i. The ability of the child to earn income during the school year or on vacation.

j. The availability of financial aid in the form of college grants and loans.

k. The child’s relationship to the paying parent, including mutual affection and shared goals as well as responsiveness to parental advice and guidance.

l. The relationship of the education requested to any prior training and to the overall long-range goals of the child.

After the court carefully examines and weighs these factors then it will determine each parent’s responsibility to contribute to the costs the child’s college education. After determining the parent’s respective college contribution obligations, the court will then determine if any child support still has to be paid. The amount of child support is based on many different factors and they include whether or not the child lives at school or at home during the school year, the income and assets available to the child, and as the special needs of the child. Please keep in mind that the child support guidelines do not apply once a child is attending college.

A parent’s responsibility to support their child will continue as long as the child is attending college on a full time basis. If a child misses a semester due to illness or other personal issues, then the court will not automatically emancipate the child. Instead, the court will carefully analyze all of the facts and circumstances of the case. If the child needs to continue their education beyond the age of twenty-three, then the court will examine the facts and circumstances and determine each case on its individual merits. The main theme of New Jersey child support and college contribution laws is that they want to ensure that the child has every opportunity to finish their college education.

3. If my ex-husband and I are able to reach an agreement as to how to pay for our son’s college, do we still have to get court approval?

It is always advisable for the parties to agree on the payment of college. If you can avoid going to court, then you will save money on legal fees, and you will not have to litigate with your ex-spouse. If you can agree on the payment of college contribution, then the court will not require court approval, to impose their own judgment on the parties.

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