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Parents’ College Contribution in NJ

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Parents’ college contribution in NJ

Recently on December 30, 2015, the Appellate Court in Laurel v. Dixon reversed and remanded to Union County trial court for a plenary hearing to undertake the separate and discreet analysis of defendant’s financial capability to make college contribution and, if so, in what amount.  The Plaintiff, represented by counsel and defendant unrepresented appealed a June 24, 2014 order that denied her motion to compel defendant to: make a $5000 lump sum payment toward child support arrears; contribute toward their son’s college tuition; reimburse her $12,144.06 for one-half of their son’s tuition she previously paid; and pay her counsel fees. She also sought a lien on defendant’s retirement account to secure his support obligations.  The Appellate court specifically stated that the trial court failed to articulate any of the Newburgh factors.

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Parents’ College Contribution in NJ

The outcome of the case reminds the family division trial judges that to make a determination of a parent’s ability to contribute towards college expenses a detailed analysis of the Newburgh factors is required.  The Newburgh factors include:

  • Whether the parent, if still living with the child, would have contributed toward the costs of the requested higher education;
  • The effect of the background values and goals of the parent on the reasonableness of the expectation of the child for higher education;
  • The amount of the contribution sought by the child for the cost of higher education;
  • The ability of the parent to pay that cost;
  • The relationship of the requested contribution to the kind of school or course of study sought by the child;
  • The financial resources of both parents;
  • The commitment to and aptitude of the child for the requested education;
  • The financial resources of the child, including assets owned individually or held in custodianship or trust;
  • The ability of the child to earn income during the school year or on vacation;
  • The availability of financial aid in the form of college grants and loans;
  • The child’s relationship to the paying parent, including mutual affection and shared goals as well as responsiveness to parental advice and guidance; and
  • The relationship of the education requested to any prior training and to the overall long-range goals of the child.

Parents’ college contribution in NJ is dependent on the individual facts of each case and requires detailed analysis.

How Divorce Affects Children

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Think of the Children!

The Affects of Divorce on Children

divorce-njWhen considering a divorce, the first thing that might pop into your mind is divorce affects children. Keeping children happy and healthy is a parental instinct. Often times parents’ view divorce as something that will have a severely negative affect on this happiness and emotional health. Many of us know or have heard countless stories of couples who “stayed together for the kids,” or delayed divorce until they reached adulthood. While this may work for some couples, it is not healthy for most to stay in an unhappy marriage for the sole purpose of keeping the children’s status quo.

Numerous studies have been conducted on how divorce affects children, but the fact remains that every family and every divorce is different.

According to Scientific American, a relatively small percentage of children experience serious problems in the wake of divorce or later in life as adults. Most children are affected in the short-term, but research suggests that they recover rapidly after the initial impact.

A 2002 study conducted by University of Virginia psychologist E. Mavis Hetherington and her graduate student Anne Mitchell Elmore found that many children experience negative affects in the short-term, including anxiety, anger, shock, and disbelief; however, by the end of the second year these feelings usually lessen or disappear.

In 2001, sociologist Paul R. Amato examined the affects on children several years after divorce. Children who experienced divorce at different ages were followed into their later childhood, adolescence or teenage years. The study found that on average there were only very small differences between these children and children of non-divorced parents in their academic achievement, emotional and behavior problems, delinquency, self-concept and social relationships.

how-divorce-affects-childrenResearch has showed that high levels of parental conflict during and after divorce are linked to more difficult adjustment in children; however, in some cases children who are from high conflict families welcome divorce as a relief from parental fighting, while those who have not witnessed any marital conflict can be more shocked or scared by the news.

While there are claims that suggest divorce leads to serious issues in adulthood like depression and relationship problems, such as in the the 2000 book entitled The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A 25 Year Landmark Study, by Judith Wallerstein and her colleagues, scientific research does not support the notion that such problems are frequent in adulthood.

On the contrary, many studies have found that most children of divorce become well-adjusted adults; the 2002 book, For Better or For Worse: Divorce Reconsidered, by E. Mavis Hetherington and her co-author, journalist John Kelly, details a the 25-year study in which she followed children of divorce and children whose parents stayed together. Hetherington found that 25 percent of the adults whose parents divorced experienced serious social, emotional or psychological troubles compared to 10 percent of those whose parents stayed together, which suggests that only 15 percent of adult children of divorce experience problems worse than those from intact families.

Ultimately, research cannot determine what causes or affects this difference, but factors such as poor parenting and the characteristics of the children are likely to play a role.

A large part of how divorce affects children is due to how parent’s handle the divorce themselves. The emotional toll of divorce on couples and the stress it produces can lead to an unintentional drop in the quality of parenting during the process. Trying to keep the stable environment the children are used to is key to their success. Some changes are inevitable, but the amount of emotional support, love, and care given is in the hands of parents.

If one or more parents are not doing well emotionally, it is likely that the children will suffer as well; therefore, a parent should try to recognize their own personal issues and seek professional help. This is especially important for the parent of primary residence.

divorce-affects-childrenChildren who witness constant fighting between their parents have a harder time adjusting. Criticism of the other parent causes tension and can be just as destructive as fighting. The best way to help children is to have all divorce and custody discussions, whether peaceful or argumentative, in private. Children should only be involved in calm clear discussions that either explain how their daily lives will be affected or to understand their feelings and wishes.

Cooperative parents can protect children from the stress of divorce. There are many resources for parents wishing to help their children adjust, such as KidsHealth.org, which offers valuable advice on how to break the news, handle reactions, and aid in the coping process.

While the fear of how divorce affects children is a logical one, parents must keep in mind that they have significant control over those affects. Of course, divorce is not the ideal situation for any family, but in certain circumstances it can be the right solution. It does not always translate to negative affects on children, especially if they have at least one parent willing to put them first.

If you fear your children will be negatively affected by your divorce it is best to consult with a family counselor or therapist and discuss your thoughts with your divorce attorney or mediator, who may provide insight into this very common concern.

PARENTAL COLLEGE CONTRIBUTION IN NJ

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NJ child support collegeTypically New Jersey requires divorced parents to contribute to their children’s college expenses. In the past, college was considered a privilege reserved only for the wealthy and elite; however, as it has become more accessible to everyone, the question of expense must be considered by parents. With a wider variety of higher education, such as county, community, state, and private colleges, as well as vocational schools, it is easier for families of all budgets to find a tuition that fits their financial situation.

In the ground-breaking case Newburgh v. Arrigo, 88 N.J. 529 (1982) the NJ Supreme Court addressed the issue of parental obligation in these situations. The court found that generally parents who are financially capable should aid their qualifying children in educational expenses, whether this be by paying all or part of the cost. In some cases, this responsibility can even include post-graduate education.

The decision also set forth a list of relevant factors courts should consider when evaluating a claim for contribution, including:

1. whether the parent, if still living with the child, would have contributed toward the costs of the requested higher education;

2. the effect of the background, values and goals of the parent on the reasonableness of the expectation of the child for higher education;

3. the amount of the contribution sought by the child for the cost of higher education;
4. the ability of the parent to pay that cost;

5. the relationship of the requested contribution to the kind of school or course of study sought by the child;

6. the financial resources of both parents;

7. the commitment to and aptitude of the child for the requested education;

8. the financial resources of the child, including assets owned individually or held in custodianship or trust;

9. the ability of the child to earn income during the school year or on vacation;

10. the availability of financial aid in the form of college grants and loans;

11. the child’s relationship to the paying parent, including mutual affection and shared goals as well as responsiveness to parental advice and guidance; and

12. the relationship of the education requested to any prior training and to the overall long-range goals of the child.

It is best for divorced parents in New Jersey to address college expenses as they would if they were still married, and expect joint responsibility. Parents should also be sure not to overlook college obligation when drafting the property settlement agreement. Even individuals with young children should take this into account; the agreement may be modified in the future, but adding this language in the initial agreement may save both parties from further disputes and legal fees.

If an agreement cannot be made between the parties directly or via divorce mediation, the discovery process will begin and attorneys will exchange relevant financial information on their clients including tax returns, W-2s, assets, and Case Information Statements. If attorneys cannot come to an appropriate agreement, the court will schedule a hearing in which the judge will take the discovery into account and determine each parent’s contribution, as well as address any additional child support modifications.

If you currently have a property settlement agreement that does not mention your child’s college tuition, a court will likely require some sort of contribution; however, it is still important to consult with a NJ family law attorney and consider whether modification to add the provision is appropriate in your case.

While some parents may believe that their child will be considered emancipated when they turn 18, this is not always the case. Emancipation usually only becomes an issue when a parent paying child support believes they should no longer be required to make payments. New Jersey does not have a fixed age for the termination of support; therefore, when the obligee-parent does not agree that payments should stop, the obligor must filed a motion seeking the emancipation of the child and termination of support.

NJ parental college contributionAn emancipated child is released from the control and support of a parent, as they have become financially independent. This age will be determined by the court unless an existing property settlement agreement has defined an age of majority; however, even this does not entirely release parents from the college contribution obligation – only a court may make a final decision on parents’ responsibilities in this matter.

There are instances in which contribution is not considered appropriate, such as if a child’s relationship to the parent is essentially non-existent despite the parent’s attempt to maintain it. These situations will be decided by the court on a case-by-case basis, so it is crucial to work with an experienced NJ family law attorney.

 

WHAT IF MY EX STOPS PAYING CHILD SUPPORT?

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Unfortunately, unpaid child support is a not an uncommon frustration among custodial parents; however, there are a number of options available for enforcement and modification of child support orders in accordance with federal and New Jersey Law.

Financial and emotional support are critical to a child’s well-being and when one parent does not take this responsibility seriously, it should not be overlooked. Child support covers the financial component of a child’s well-being, providing compensation for ongoing expenses associated with basic needs until the child reaches age 18 or is no longer enrolled in high school or secondary education.child support

Under NJ family law, the right to child support belongs to the child and not the parent, which means that its purpose is not to protect either parent but solely to protect the best interest of the child. Parental obligation to pay child support remains the same regardless of the state of the parent-child relationship. While child support requests are commonly made during divorce proceedings, parents who are legally separated or do not live with one another are bound by this legal obligation.

If your child’s parent stops paying child support, the best course of action is to consult an experienced New Jersey family law attorney and seek enforcement of the existing child support order. If the obligor, the parent who owes child support, lives in another state, the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA) will ensure enforcement and modification can take place with no conflict due to orders issued by courts of different states. While UIFSA enhances the court’s ability to enforce child support orders that were issued in another jurisdiction, it restricts NJ courts from entering or modifying an order established by a court with jurisdiction. It also gives NJ courts jurisdiction over non-resident defendants. Under UIFSA only one support order exists at a given time.

Fortunately, New Jersey has a wide range of child support enforcement methods in accordance with Rule 5:7-5. Some of the most common and effective methods include:

  1. INCOME WITHHOLDING: wage garnishment, in which income is withheld from the obligor’s paycheck, is one of the most effective ways of enforcement. Pursuant to N.J.S. 2A:4-30.97 through N.J.S. 2A:4-30.103, an employer notified of an income withholding order must comply with the order regardless of what state is was registered. Income withholding may also be applied to all incomes used to calculate support including unemployment, workers’ compensation, and certain disability benefits.
  2. NJ CHILD SUPPORT LIEN ACT: a child support judgment establishes an automatic prioritized lien against the net proceeds in excess of $2,000 of any lawsuit judgment or settlement, arbitration award, workers’ compensation award, or inheritance. 
  3. FINANCIAL INSTITUTION DATA MATCH: if child support is three months behind, the obligor’s financial assets will be subject to seizure. The financial institution is required to surrender the assets after proper notice and a 30 day contest period. A separate court order must be established for the probation department to identify and seize the obligor’s financial assets in accordance with N.J.S. 2A:17-56.57.
  4. TAX OFFSET OR INTERCEPT: tax refunds may be used to pay child support arrears that exceed a certain amount. Payments due to the State for public assistance benefits paid as child support are first to be paid with the federal tax refund, while the remaining amount is given to the obligee. Generally, state tax refunds are first used to pay the obligee-parent. To qualify for federal tax offset, the amount of unpaid support must be at least $150 in public assistance cases and $500 in non-public assistance cases. For state tax offset the amount of unpaid support must be equal or greater than one month’s support obligation.
  5. APPOINTMENT OF RECEIVER; ASSET SEIZURE: the court may also appoint a custodial receiver to take possession of the obligor’s property and sell or use it to satisfy amounts due under a support order pursuant to N.J.S. 2A:34-23.

Other than income withholding, the rest of the techniques above are applied after failure to comply with the child support order. Moreover, if the obligor still fails to willfully comply with the support order, more severe enforcement may occur in the form of coercive sanctions, pursuant to R. 5:6-5 (enforcement of orders). This permits the court to proceed by carrying out any combination of the sanctions in R. 5:3-7 which include:

  1. Ordering temporary incarceration or issuing a warrant to be executed upon the obligor’s failure to comply in the future; and
  2. Suspending any state occupational or driver’s license; and
  3. Imposing economic sanctions; and
  4. Requiring the delinquent obligor to participate in an approved community service program; and
  5. Ordering any other equitable remedy deemed to be appropriate.

These coercive sanctions are not intended to be used as punishment, but as a way to facilitate enforcement. Typically, an ability to comply hearing is held before the court orders these sanctions to ensure that the obligor has the present ability to pay. Therefore, incarceration is used sparingly in situations when is it likely to lead to compliance with the child support order.

While New Jersey law has numerous ways to protect children and custodial parents in this matter, it can be a tedious and draining process to get payments made regularly if the obligor is unwilling to comply with any order or agreement. At Armour Law, we will help you modify your existing order with the court and ensure that all appropriate enforcement methods are employed.