In a recent public battle between a teenager and her parents in New Jersey, the issue of whether a parent is obligated to pay for their child's college education was put to the test. In that case, because the child's parents were not divorced, the answer was "no." However, the answer is not so clear when divorced parents have signed an agreement agreeing to pay child support by contributing to a college education.
The law requires divorced parents who have signed a property settlement agreement agreeing to pay for college tuition to abide by that agreement. However, what if the child refuses to have a relationship with the parent who is paying that tuition? Must the parent continue to pay no matter what? A recent New Jersey case has answered that question.
In that case, the court ruled that when there is a damaged relationship between a college-age student and a parent, the court may order the student to attend joint counseling with the parent as a condition of the student receiving ongoing child support from that parent for college tuition, so long as there is no compelling reason to keep the parent and student physically apart. It stands to reason that a student's refusal to participate in the counseling may result in that student being cut off from paying any more college tuition, thereby terminating a parent's child support obligation regardless of the terms of a property settlement agreement.
It remains to be seen whether such a situation imposes a greater burden on the divorced parent with whom the student does not have a damaged relationship to pay for college or whether the shortfall must be paid for by the student alone.