Support for Child’s Graduate School After Divorce in New Jersey
September 6, 2017
In a recent New Jersey appellate case, a mother and father divorced in 1993 and executed a settlement agreement that gave them joint legal custody. The mother would have primary residential custody of their children and would receive $630 per month in child support for the kids. The parties agreed to contribute to the kids’ college expenses. Many years later, the father’s child support obligation was reduced to $150 per week.
After their daughter graduated from college, the father moved to emancipate her and to terminate child support for her and recalculate child support for his son. He claimed she was 23 and could support herself, since she worked part-time.
The mother made a motion to deny the request to emancipate, asking for an increase in child support for their son. She argued that the daughter would go to graduate school at a university and would be interning, and therefore she couldn’t earn income during that time. She asked for the father to pay certain expenses, including taxes attributed to a tuition benefit. She also asked that he pay more child support for their son, since the son’s Supplemental Security Income was going to be reduced.
The father answered that their agreement hadn’t contemplated any contribution to graduate school. The judge granted the motion to emancipate but reserved its decision on recalculating child support for the son. The judge wasn’t sure whether the daughter was beyond the sphere of parental influence, but since the daughter was over 18, there was a rebuttable presumption of emancipation at age 18 that the plaintiff hadn’t overcome.
The mother moved for reconsideration and argued that the father should contribute to graduate school expenses, based on the agreement. Her motion was denied, since the agreement had only referred to college costs.
The mother appealed, arguing that it was a mistake to emancipate her daughter and not require the father to contribute to graduate school expenses. The appellate court explained that once a child gets to age 18, there is a rebuttable presumption of emancipation. However, whether a child should be considered emancipated depends on whether he or she has moved beyond the parent’s sphere of influence and responsibility and has an independent status of his or her own. A factual inquiry has to include issues like the child’s needs and resources, the reasonable expectations of the parents, and the parents’ financial abilities.
In this case, the judge wasn’t sure whether the daughter was going to school, since she’d graduated in 2015, and the mother didn’t offer evidence that the daughter was living with her. The mother tried to supplement the record by providing her daughter’s certification, but only after the emancipation motion was granted. The appellate court reasoned that the parents had agreed to defer the discussion of contribution to college costs in their divorce settlement agreement, but they hadn’t explicitly agreed to graduate school costs. It explained that it had to interpret the settlement agreement as written in the context of the circumstances at the time it was drafted, and it couldn’t add terms to the agreement. The judgment was affirmed.
If you are considering divorce in Bergen County, and you are concerned about child support issues, it is important to retain an experienced and aggressive attorney to seek an appropriate outcome. Contact the lawyers of Leopold Law at (201) 345-5907 or through our online form. We have attorneys available who can handle all aspects of a divorce.