Thursday, July 26, 2012

My Money, My Right to See Your Grades.

College-age children want privacy from their parents. But if the child is paying for college using child support, then, in New Jersey, that privacy about what they are doing in school goes away. 

In the April 2011 New Jersey case VanBrunt v. VanBrunt, the divorcing parties entered into a Settlement Agreement that said they would share joint legal custody of the children and Wife would be the parent of primary residence, meaning that the children would live with her. 

After Husband filed numerous motions to disclose the daughter’s college records or to have her emancipated, Wife failed to provide Husband with documentation showing that their twenty-one year old daughter was a full time college student. Wife gave many excuses as to why she did not have the records including: her daughter would not give her any documentation, that she was not allowed to obtain the information herself due to her daughter’s privacy rights, and that it was the daughter’s responsibility to provide Husband with that documentation.

The privacy law that Wife relied on is called the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), 20 U.S.C.A. §1232(g), a 1974 federal law that gives students over the age of eighteen certain privacy rights when it comes to their education records. In most cases, the college or university that the student attends cannot release any information to a third party without the student’s written authorization. 

The trial court disagreed with Wife’s reasons for not handing over the daughter’s school records saying the daughter’s status as a student was directly tied to Husband’s obligation to pay child support and contribute to other finances, including the cost of college. The court held that Husband had a right to the documentation, but only as it pertained to enrollment, course credits and grades. The daughter could not use FERPA to prevent disclosing her college records while still asserting that she was unemancipated and entitled to mandatory child support and college contributions from her father.

Likewise, Wife, who is the one receiving child support, has an ongoing duty to provide the information about whether or not her daughter is still a student. If Wife cannot obtain this information from the daughter, then the daughter would no longer be under the control of the mother and should be emancipated for the purpose of child support and college contributions.

This case was never appealed and therefore is not binding on courts outside of Ocean County, New Jersey. If you have questions about child support that you are paying for a college-aged child, please consult with an attorney.

Written by Allyson Lutley, law clerk at The Law Offices of Linda a. Kerns, LLC.  Edited by Elizabeth A. Bokermann, Esquire.