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Does My Child Support Payment Include College Expenses? The Teachings of Gropper v. Gropper

By Snyder & Sarno on October 29, 2014


In New Jersey, the payment of college expenses for a child shared with an ex-spouse is often a payment in addition to scheduled child support.  The recent case of Gropper v. Gropper discusses this issue and, specifically, the differences between the two payments.

In Gropper, the parties had two children.  Pursuant to their Property Settlement Agreement, the parties planned to split, nearly equally, the cost of their children’s college education with the father also paying child support to mother, which at the time of the case was $149 per week.  At some point, the father moved to North Carolina, where the two children were attending college as in-state residents. 

The father filed a motion for a modification of his child support award in regards to one of the parties’ children.  He alleged that any support should be paid directly to the child, the child should be responsible for some college costs considering the child had saved money from working, and his college contribution obligation should be lessened. The mother responded that one of the parties’ children was interested in attending a private college in order to pursue a particular career path, and thus, the college tuition obligation should not be reduced.   The trial court ordered the father to pay $50 and the mother to pay $30 to the child per week and, after examining the child support factors in N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(a), allocated the cost of private college tuition between the parties.  The mother was required to pay 42% of the college cost and the father was obligated to pay 58% of the college cost.

On appeal, the New Jersey Appellate Division decided that the trial court was in error by not considering the factors set out in Newburg v. Arrigo, 88 N.J. 529 (1982) when considering the parties’ college cost obligations. The court noted that while the factors set out in N.J.S.A. 2A:34-23(a) and Newburg are only slightly different, the payment of college tuition and child support are different.

Furthermore, the Appellate Division decided that the trial court should have considered the child’s part-time employment in fixing the parties’ college cost obligation. Lastly, the Appellate Division also stated that the trial court must consider the parties’ financial circumstances in determining the parties’ responsibility to pay college tuition.  Ultimately, the case was remanded to the trial court for further consideration of the issues discussed on appeal. 

The costs associated with supporting children and paying for college can be a substantial financial burden for any family, whether the parents are together or not.  If you are struggling with child support or college cost obligations, the experienced attorneys at Snyder & Sarno, LLC can help you with your case.  Call us today at (973) 274-5200. 

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