Thursday, March 6, 2014

What Obligation Do You Have to Pay Your Child's Tuition to College?

Two New Jersey cases pose the question in different ways

Most parents, given the financial means, are only too pleased to help their kids with some or all of the tuition needed for higher education.  But what happens when there is a falling away?  What if you made a promise to pay, but now you aren't speaking to that adult child?  What if there was an ensuing divorce?  It seems like New Jersey is the place where these unusual circumstances are being played out in our courts.

CASE 1 - Teenager wants dad to pay her college tuition in spite of her rule breaking

By Ben Horowitz/The Star-Ledger
A Superior Court judge today refused to order a Lincoln Park couple to pay private school and college tuition for their 18-year-old daughter who moved out of their house and is suing for financial support."  Do we want to establish a precedent where parents live in basic fear of establishing rules of the house?" Family Division Judge Peter Bogaard asked.
Rachel Canning, a senior at Morris Catholic High School, went to court to force her parents, Sean and Elizabeth Canning, to pay her child support, her private school tuition, medical and related bills, college expenses and legal fees. Canning is an honor student and athlete, but her parents have stopped paying her bills because, they say, she would not obey their rule.
Bogaard refused to issue the requested emergency order, which would have awarded the teen more than $600 a week.
 While Rachel may have been a model daughter and student in the past, she seems to be slipping of late.  She has had some troubles at school, and apparently has no interest in abiding by the house rules.  Parents following this story are probably empathizing with the parents.  Most families end up with at least one child who acts out.

In this case Rachel left home at age 18, and has had a running battle with her parents ever since.  The judge seemed to hold out some hope that the family could reconcile.  But he also seemed to be clear that he was not going to force the parents to pay for Rachel's education.

Case 2 - Adult daughter sues to collect on dad's promise to pay for law school

While this story is about a father and daughter, it really seems to be more about contract and divorce law in New Jersey.  Mom and dad promised to pay for their daughters law school under certain circumstances, such as maintaining a "C" average.  Now the parents have split up, and the daughter is no longer speaking to her dad.  He wants out of the deal.

By Jeff Goldman/The Star-Ledger

A New Jersey father must uphold the terms of his divorce and pay half of his daughter's law school expenses, a two-judge appellate panel decided.

The judges, sitting in Middlesex County, upheld a lower court's decision and told Rutgers University history professor James C. Livingston he'll have to give his daughter more than $112,000 so she can pay the $225,000 tab to attend Cornell Law School.

The ruling came as no surprise to attorney Daniel H. Brown, who represented Patricia Rossi, Livingston's former wife.

"I was expecting (the decision) based on the tenor of the oral arguments," Brown said by phone this morning. "You could read the tea leaves. The parties negotiated the settlement as to what their respective obligations would be. The parties can agree to support the child and that's exactly what occurred here."

When Livingston and Rossi divorced in 2009, they agreed to split the cost if their daughter attended law school and maintained at least a 'C' average, the suit said.

After the divorce the daughter and Livingston had a falling out and stopped talking.

Livingston did offer to pay $7,500 per year under the condition that she attend Rutgers Law School, but she chose Cornell. The judges came down on the side of the daughter.  The "contract" was clear. He would pay if she got C grades.  She complied.  His obligation was still in force.


  1. I think the government should try to see these cases and try to help people. There should be a law that studts fees will be paid by the Govt. till there high school.

  2. I agree with the post and government should consider these types of cases seriously and try to find the solution as soon as possible.