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Who pays for college after a divorce?

The costs of college tuition and related expenses have been steadily rising across New Jersey and the rest of the country for decades. According to ValuePenguin, the average cost to attend an in-state college per year totals $13,870 in 2019. Across the country, the average cost of tuition at a public or private four-year college totals $25,620 and $34,740, respectively.

With such staggering costs, many parents wish to provide their children with financial assistance. However, a divorce can complicate any college plans you have made for your child. After a divorce, who pays for college?

Child support obligations in New Jersey

In New Jersey, child support obligations typically end on the child’s 19th birthday. However, a 2017 law introduced some key changes. Child support obligations still terminate when a child turns 19. However, child support may continue until age 23 if the child is:

  • Attending high school, vocational school or another secondary program on a full-time basis
  • Attending a post-secondary program like college, graduate school or more
  • Suffering from a physical or mental disability

The court can also order the continuation of child support payments past the age of 19 for other reasons. However, if your child continues to attend college or another program past the age of 23, the law will not require a parent to continue such payments.

Address plans in your divorce agreement

Understanding this law can help to establish a plan ideally before your child enrolls in college. Most divorcing New Jersey parents discuss plans for how each parent will financially contribute to a child's college education in their divorce proceeding.

A written agreement can clarify a strategy for paying for college. In discussing this agreement, negotiate both financial and other relevant details, like restrictions on colleges the child may attend. Then, discuss a plan to cover expenses, ranging from the most obvious expenses like tuition and room and board, to others like books, laptops, meal plans, extracurricular programs or activities and more. You may also want to talk about other possible situations, like your child taking a year off from school, the potential of studying abroad and more.

Discussing plans to financially support your child’s college education can be challenging whether your child is in high school or kindergarten. Include clear language in your divorce agreement that addresses a wide array of potential situations to avoid uncertainty and future disputes when the time comes.

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