How to Limit Payment for College in a Divorce

As most divorces in New Jersey end in settlement rather than trial, having the right words in your settlement agreement is crucial.  A well thought out settlement agreement can prevent years of further litigation and heartache down the road.  As many parties in a divorce come to find out, you may feel like you and your ex are on the same page when signing your settlement agreement, but vague and ambiguous boilerplate language can lead to a difference of interpretation in the future.  One of the best ways to protect yourself is to hire an experienced family law attorney to help craft an agreement that is specifically tailored to you and your family’s future needs. 

Vague or ambiguous language often leads to expensive and sometimes lengthy post-judgment litigation.  For example, in the matter Hardy v. Akinola, No. A-0306-19, 2021 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 250 (App. Div. Feb. 12, 2021), a recent unpublished opinion from the Appellate Division, the Court was confronted with the question of what qualifies as a State level college.  In this matter, the children’s college education expenses were to be based on costs of a State level college.  While many would see this language and automatically think “Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey”, or the so-called “Rutgers Rule,” the Appellate Court has found that Rutgers is not necessarily the set standard in regards to State school and tuition.  There are actually 33 public colleges and universities in New Jersey, including the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Rowan, and Montclair University. 

In this case, the parties’ son chose to enroll at Monmouth University without the defendant’s consent.  The Superior Court found that the defendant’s contribution to Monmouth University should be based on tuition, room and board at The College of New Jersey, as that was the school closest in costs to Monmouth.  The Appellate Division confirmed this decision.  This matter could have been avoided if the parties based their contribution towards college costs on Rutgers, rather than a State level school. 

Another example of ensuring a clear-cut answer for future issues is setting the terms of a child’s emancipation.  This is a standard provision of any Marital Settlement Agreement where children are involved.  One of the boilerplate terms of emancipation in New Jersey is reaching the age of 18 if the child is not enrolled in full time education.  So, what does this mean?  Does this mean that a child can continue to take classes, switch majors and attend school full time in perpetuity?  While most children do not find themselves continually attending school full time into their late 20s, it is not an impossible scenario.  The simple addition of language setting the age limit can save a lot of grief and heartache in the future. 

There are countless examples like these where an experienced attorney can make a client’s life much less complicated in the future.  A divorce can be one of the most difficult processes a person ever goes through.  While deciding whether hiring an attorney is right for you, it is important to consider how your divorce will affect you in the future.  Hiring an experienced family law attorney who has witnessed countless different scenarios play out and can properly protect you from ambiguous, boilerplate language, can be the best decision you ever make. 

The family law department at Hoagland, Longo, Moran, Dunst & Doukas, LLP is comprised of experienced attorneys who have the knowledge to guide you properly through your divorce settlement.  If you are contemplating hiring an attorney, or have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us at jkuhn@hoaglandlongo.com or jmazur@hoaglandlongo.com or 732-545-4717 for a free initial consultation.