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College Contribution in New Jersey Divorce: Common Categories of Expenses

By: David A. Beaver, Esq.

It is that special time of year when caps and gowns are being handed out and high school graduations are just around the corner. While I fondly remember this exciting time in my life, as a matrimonial attorney, I am preparing for an influx of phone calls and emails from individuals requesting guidance regarding their financial obligations for their child’s upcoming college expenses.

In New Jersey, many divorced parents have an obligation to contribute toward their child’s college expenses. New Jersey courts have offered a wide definition of what expenses are included in a parent’s college obligation. To further complicate the issue, each case presented to the court brings a unique set of facts for the court to consider.

I will outline some common categories of college expenses for which Courts often direct parents to contribute.

SAT Preparation Classes and Test Fees

That is correct– before your child even attends college, a parent may be responsible to contribute toward the child’s SAT preparation classes and testing fees. In certain circumstances, a Court may order a parent to contribute toward SAT tutoring expenses. With the weight that colleges place on SAT scores, courts will give serious consideration to requests to have each parent contribute toward SAT preparation costs.

Tuition and Fees

The tuition and fees of a college are self-explanatory. In recent years, college fees have become more expansive. Some of these fees include facility fees, technology fees, dorm set-up fees, microwaves and other furnishings for a dorm room, and other fees that institutions may deem appropriate. It is important for parents to interface with the college or educational institution to have a good understanding of what is included in the fees for which they are paying.

Room and Board

If your child chooses not commute to college, a parent will likely be responsible for their room and board expenses. When a child resides on campus, the “room” expenses are usually defined as the fees billed by the college for the child’s dorm room. Courts have also ordered parents to be responsible for a child’s off-campus housing (in lieu of on-campus housing). Off-campus housing is more typical for a student during his or her junior and senior years of college. If your child resides off campus, in addition to the rent, a parent will also likely be responsible for the security deposit and utilities associated with this housing arrangement.

The term “board” often refers to meal plans for the child. Many colleges have different levels of meal plans that students can select. If a child lives off campus, courts often direct the parents to contribute to a food allowance to the student, which will simply replace the meal plan options that are offered through the college.

Books & Computer

A child’s books will be included in the college expense obligation. With the emergence of websites that rent text books to college students, this expense has decreased over recent years and the courts are getting more comfortable with the notion of rented text books.

In this day and age, it is a virtual necessity for college students to have their own computer. It is a common practice for parents to contribute towards a laptop computer for their child. In fact, many universities are mandating that students purchase a computer to assist with online course materials.

Transportation

Courts are also identifying reasonable transportation costs as recognized college expenses. With many schools not allowing freshman to have vehicles on campus, this expense may include airfare (if applicable), bus or train expenses for a child to go to school each semester and come home during recognized breaks.

Transportation expenses for college visits and tours have also been included in expenses allocated between parents. It is commonplace for the expense associated with the visit of a student (and parent) to a potential college being shared as a recognized college expense. This expense usually includes, lodging for the visit, food and gas reimbursement for the parent that is accompanying the child.
As one can imagine, the level of contribution towards a child’s college expenses can quickly escalate. However, through a properly drafted settlement agreement or consent order, many of these issues can be avoided. The parties can give specific definition to what college expenses they will divide.

If you have any questions about this topic, please do not hesitate to contact our office.