When New Jersey’s Child Support Guidelines Don’t Apply to College Students Living on Campus

It’s already a well-established standard in New Jersey that the Child Support Guidelines apply in most child support cases.

A notable, recognized exception occurs when the child is (1) over 18 years old and (2) attending college or some other institution of post-secondary education.

On a related note, a detailed explanation as to each category of the included expenses can be found in the text of paragraph 9 of Appendix IX– A.

Now the New Jersey Appellate Division is elaborating on the “away at college” exception in a new opinion, Jacoby v. Jacoby, which was just reported and approved for publication on July 11, 2012. It’s a must read decision for all unmarried or divorced  parents in New Jersey with college-age kids…

The Court addressed a few different issues in Jacoby but, most significantly for child support litigants with college-age kids, held that when a child goes away to college, while that may constitute a change in circumstances warranting a review of child support, “there is no presumption that a child’s required financial support lessens because he or she attends college.” Furthermore, rather than rely on the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines, the Court clarified that family judges “must assess all applicable facts and circumstances, weighing the factors set forth in N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23a.”

The Jacoby fact set is probably all-too-familiar for many of you.

In the Fall of 2009, the defendant-father requested a recalculation of his child support obligation for the parties’ younger child partially on the basis that he was away “at school . . . in excess of [e]ighty-[f]ive . . . percent of the year.” A different family judge had agreed to modify the defendant’s obligation and crafted a very intricate support formula to do so – one that was predicated on similar grounds – back in 2007 when the parties’ older child headed off to college..

The Trial Court ultimately modified defendant’s obligation pursuant to other factors (chiefly a reduction in his income) but did not accept his argument regarding lower costs associated with the child living at school. Following an appeal, the Appellate Court agreed that the Trial Court did not err in utilizing its broad discretion when it departed from the first judge’s support forumla; it also agreed that it was in the trial judge’s discretion, under these facts, whether a plenary hearing would be necessary.

Regarding the crucial “away at school” element, the Court acknowledged that a custodial parent must still maintain a home for a child living on a college campus, as well as foot many educational and living expenses which are not directly covered under a Guidelines-calculated award. I don’t think many New Jersey parents would disagree with at least that portion of the Court’s reasoning!

Hence, the Appellate Court felt a Guidelines-centric approach would almost always fall short of considering all of the essential elements. It remanded the case for the Trial Court’s consideration, specifically as it pertains to several highly-fact sensitive factors:

On remand, the calculation of child support for the parties’ college students must be based on evaluation of the 17 factors enumerated in N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23a. Specifically, the judge must determine the children’s individual needs and assess the income, assets, debts, earning ability, age, and health of each child and each parent to reach an appropriate level of support. Finally, the other aspects impacting such an award, as we have discussed in this opinion, must be considered.”

Applying the New Jersey Child Support Guidelines to your family’s circumstances can be complicated enough; it’s always a fact intensive area of the law. That analysis becomes even more challenging for cases like Jacoby where trial courts must depart from the Guidelines altogther and rely almost entirely on relatively-subjective criteria to craft an equitable child support award.

You don’t have to navigate this process alone. More importantly, you don’t have to tackle momentous decision that will affect your children’s education without professional, experienced and compassionate assistance.  If you or someone you know needs help in determining the proper child support obligation, please contact the child support attorneys at DeMichele & DeMichele online today.  Your confidential initial consultation is only a phone call away: (856) 546-1350.

 

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Matt Rooney

Matt Rooney

Matt Rooney is a former Superior Court law clerk, New Jersey attorney and noted political commentator who focuses his practice on family law, municipal court and personal injury matters.
Matt Rooney

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