In New Jersey, a parent has an obligation to contribute to his or her child’s college education. There are a number of factors that a Court typically considers when determining the amount of the contribution. The primary consideration is ability to pay. The party’s relationship with the child is also a factor to be considered, but until recently, Courts did not focus on this issue. In other words, even if the parent and the child did not have a good relationship, the Court would require the parent to contribute to college to the extent they had the ability to do so.
A recent decision out of the Ocean County Family Court, Black v. Black, attempts to address the issue of a parent and child having a broken relationship when the child is nevertheless requesting that the parent contribute to college. The Court decided that it would require that the parent and child attend counseling together as a condition for the payment of college.
Hopefully, this decision will have a widespread impact on how Courts deal with the issue with payment of college. In many instances , a parent and a college aged child have a strained relationship and the relationship can reach a breaking point when a parent is ordered to pay for college despite the child refusing to communicate with the parent. Now there is recourse for the parent who would like to repair the relationship, but until now, was powerless to do so.
This decision also makes sense if one looks at how an intact family would address the same situation. If a child and a parent did not have a good relationship, the parent would at least be able to have some leverage in refusing to pay for college to persuade the child to respect the parent and work to repair the relationship. Until now a parent in a family that was not intact did not have this same leverage. Requiring counseling as a condition of continued payment may not force a relationship to be repaired, but at least it starts a dialogue between the parent and child.