An October 19 th New Jersey Appeals Court decision confirmed that a
custodial parent of a child can’t force the noncustodial, largely uninvolved one, to
pay toward a child’s college expenses if that parent isn’t included in the decision
making process, and after the child incurs the college tuition debt.
The mother and father in this case never married and had a daughter in
1991. She lived with and was cared for by her mother, but both parents
informally dealt with her financial needs. In June 2009, when the daughter was a
senior in high school, the mother got a court order for child support, amounting to
about $7000 annually. The daughter and her father were never close or involved
in each other’s lives. But he paid the child support in full and on time.
The child got her bachelor’s degree and then her master’s degree,
accumulating over $100,000 in debt. The parents agreed to emancipate her
(declare her as no longer financially dependent on them) as of January 30, 2015.
By this time, she had completed her graduate degree.
Two days before the emancipation went into effect, the mother applied to
the Court to force the father to contribute to his daughter’s over $100,000 school
debt. She asked the court to consider the Newburgh test (a court-created
analysis to determine whether a non-custodial parent must contribute to college
expenses), but the court refused to do so because “the … judge principally
determined that [the mother] had filed her application far too late, years after the
child had already incurred her five years of undergraduate and graduate
The Appeals Court agreed, saying that “Depending upon the
circumstances, a parent's appropriate contribution level could be zero … where
the defendant father had no meaningful role in his daughter's life and was
excluded from her college-selection process.” The Court also said that a
custodial parent should make her or his application for a college contribution
before the expenses are incurred.
In this case, the father had no meaningful participation in any of the post
high school education plans of his daughter. He was only asked to contribute
after she had completed graduate school, and a mere two days before her
emancipation. Both the lower court and the Appeals Court agreed that the
mother’s application was far too late for the Newburgh test to even be
considered. Evan Xavier Bakhet is a J.D. Candidate at Rutgers School of Law-
Newark with a scheduled graduation date in 2017. He collaborated with me on