College Costs and Your Property Settlement Agreement in New Jersey, Be Aware !


A receipt lists the typical costs of sending your child to college.

In most divorce situations, the more collaboratively the two spouses work to craft a solution with which both are comfortable (or as comfortable as possible,) the better. That’s especially true if the two are not only spouses but also parents. Collaboration often equates to longer lasting solutions that are more healthy and productive for both spouses involved.

Working collaboratively can save spouses a lot of time and money. However, there are some savings that may not be worth it. One way that some spouses may try to save money in working out a settlement agreement is doing so without legal representation. While some divorcing couples may be able to navigate the process on their own, proceeding without the right Hoboken family law attorney is filled with possible risk.

When it comes to negotiating your divorce settlement agreement, the advice and advocacy of your attorney can be essential. If the agreement you sign isn’t what you really need, there can be serious problems down the road. Look at the case of S.B. and M.E., a couple from Hudson County who had two children together. When they ended their marriage in 2001, theirs was an uncontested divorce. They worked out all their issues in a settlement agreement.

One of the issues the couple worked out in that settlement agreement related to the education of couple’s two children. The agreement stated that, if the children showed the necessary “interest and aptitude,” the parents would pay for the child’s college education. Each parent would pay based on his/her income. (In other words, if the father made $120,000 and the mother made $40,000, then the father would pay 75% of the costs of college, and the mother would contribute 25%.)

What the agreement didn’t state was the role each parent would pay in the college selection process. Fast forward to 2017 and the mother had returned to court to get the father to pay his required share under the agreement. The parents’ documents showed that the father made almost six times what the mother did and was responsible for 85% of the college costs.

When the case went before the Appellate Division court, the father argued that the trial court order was erroneous because the children failed to consult with him before choosing the colleges they would enter.

The problem lay in the agreement’s terms, not in the trial judge’s ruling

The problem the father had was the agreement he signed back in 2001. The agreement said that he would pay. It did not say that the father was only obligated to pay if he gave advance approval to the children’s college choices. It did not even say that the children had to consult with the father at all. The only requirement was the children have the necessary levels of “interest and aptitude” for college attendance.

Certainly, it may be frustrating as a parent when your child does not take, or even seek, your advice about such a major life decision as a college choice, especially when you’re paying for it. Having your child turn down a “full ride” from Stevens in order to attend a much more expensive school, for example, may be upsetting. It is also something that is entirely foreseeable and, if it is a concern, something that should be worked out during the settlement agreement negotiation process.

The court opinion in S.B.’s case didn’t state whether the father had a lawyer in 2001. However, too many people proceed in marital settlement agreement negotiations without the legal advice and advocacy they need, and regret it later. Don’t be one of those people. Contact experienced Hoboken family law attorney Frank Marciano for the representation you need. Whether you are seeking to complete an uncontested divorce, or your divorce is very much contested, Attorney Marciano and his team are here to help you. To set up a consultation, contact the office online or call 201.656.1000.

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