Divorce and College Tuition

By The Law Offices of Ronald H. Kauffman of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Divorce on Monday, December 29, 2014.

Can you be forced to pay for your child’s college tuition? Two divorced New Jersey parents recently found out they have to pay for their adult daughter’s tuition at Temple University. Why?

As the New York Daily News reports, Temple University junior Caitlyn Ricci sued her parents for tuition money in 2013. Last week, a New Jersey judge ordered the divorced couple to pay $16,000 every year the 21-year-old is enrolled in classes.

The judge relied on Newburgh v. Arrigo. In that landmark case, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled divorced parents may be responsible for providing for their child’s “necessary education.”

In New Jersey, the law presumes that the privilege of parenthood carries with it the duty to assure a necessary education for children. Necessary education is a flexible concept, can vary in different circumstances, and may include college tuition.

The Ricci parents reportedly are estranged, and threw Caitlyn out of their house because she refused to accept house rules like doing chores and a curfew.

They tried reaching out to her after she moved to her grandparents’ in by sending cards, pictures, and poems, but got no response. The only time the parents have seen Caitlyn Ricci is in court.

Caitlyn sued her parents in 2013 soon after she moved out of her mother’s house. A New Jersey judge ordered the parents to help with tuition so long as she applied for all possible loans and scholarships. Her parents claimed she didn’t apply, so they refused to pay.

Last summer, she transferred to Temple University in Philadelphia. When she brought the case back to court, the tuition bills were a lot higher. The judge set the parents’ annual payment at $16,000.

The parents said they will only pay the tuition bill if their daughter makes an effort to reconcile the broken relationship. She still refuses to return messages and won’t look at them even in court.

Florida law does not follow New Jersey’s “necessary education” concept. In Florida, a parent’s duty to pay an adult child’s college expenses is moral rather than legal.

When parents in a divorce agree to educate their child after the child reaches 18, the agreement may be enforced. However, the obligation is not viewed as child support in Florida, but a contractual duty arising from the marital settlement agreement.

The New York Daily News article is here.