Edward R. Weinstein, Esq.

Can Child Support Change When Children Enter College?

Many divorced parents revisit their child support arrangements when a child enters college. If the parents have been divorced for many years, college expenses may be significantly different than originally estimated. Additionally, parents may have had a change in their personal financial circumstances.

Often clients ask me a variation of the question “now that my child is in college, do I still have to pay child support?” Recently, a New Jersey Appellate Division handled that very question.

The scenario: The Jacoby’s were divorced and had two children. When the first entered college, Mr. Jacoby filed to reduce his child support payment to his ex-wife on the grounds that the child was no longer living full-time in her house. The court granted the change using formulas that showed that in fact the household expenses were lower since the child was not home full-time.

When the second child went off to college, Mr. Jacoby once again filed to have support modified on the same grounds, however this time it was denied and he appealed. You can click here to see the full ruling from the appellate court here.

The court did agree that the launch of a child off to college is certainly grounds to revisit support, the court stated that it was not an automatic occurrence, and many factors, including those related to the children and both parents should be considered. Citing several cases, child support modifications must be done in the best interest of the children. The occurrence of going to college may not in fact have such a drastic effect on the amount of child support paid.

How this can apply to you:

Well first, if you are paying child support and one of your children goes off to college, do not take it upon yourself to just lower a child support payment. All court orders, like child support orders are legally binding documents. To have them modified you must return to court unless a settlement can be reached, and your lawyer may then simply draft a Consent Order to be submitted to the Superior Court of New Jersey. Additionally, if you receive support, do not make a “hand-shake” agreement to have your support lowered when one of your children enters college. These decisions need to go through the proper legal channels.

Secondly, this case highlights that just because a child (or even all children) go off to college, costs associated with rearing those children do not disappear. The child is still home for approximately five full months, and even when they are away at school there are costs associated with keeping a primary residence for them.

Lastly, while the formula for determining child support is standard, known as New Jersey Child Support Guidelines, the court may choose to use great discretion in determining child support when the child lives at college. This is due to the fact that although full-time college students are not emancipated for child support purposes, New Jersey’s Child Support Guidelines do not strictly apply. To date, there is no set formula or process to give legal professionals any guidance in how the courts may see a particular case or set of circumstances. With such uncertainty and discretion, these types of matters should be handled with counsel from legal professionals who can evaluate and present your case to the court to ensure the best possible outcome. If you currently pay or receive child support in New Jersey and have questions regarding the impact of college on those payments, please do not hesitate to call our office.