Saturday, July 13, 2013
In New Jersey, when a child moves out of the house and onto a college campus, this does not necessarily mean that child support obligations reduce or terminate. The New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division focused on this concept in a case called Jacoby v. Jacoby in 2012.
In New Jersey, a parent can ask the court to change child support obligations if there is a change in circumstances warranting review of the child support amount. (A typical change in circumstance includes a change in a parent’s income or the emancipation of a child, since these are the factors that are involved in calculating the actual child support amount).
In Jacoby, Father petitioned the court to reduce his child support obligations, as his son was preparing to go to college and live on the college campus. Father argued that this was a change in circumstances warranting a reduction in child support. The trial judge agreed with Father and reduced his support amount using a rather novel calculation method. On appeal, the Superior Court found the trial judge’s calculations to be erroneous and held that just because a son or daughter attends college, no presumption exists that the child’s required financial support will lessen.
The Superior Court arrived to this conclusion by re-emphasizing what it means to have a change in circumstance and the consequences that has for child support calculations. While the trial judge has broad discretion in ordering a child support amount, he or she must still be consistent with the law. Here, the Superior Court decided that the trial judge erred in his decision to reduce Father’s child support because he did not use standard calculations methods and he wrongfully considered the college student to be partially emancipated.
The Superior Court in Jacoby used logic from a 1999 decision: Raynor v. Raynor. In this case, the Superior Court reasoned that the child support amount must be determined in light of all financial circumstances of the parties and the children. Just because a student moves onto his or her college campus, does not mean that students’ needs and abilities change, nor does it mean that the custodial parent all of a sudden has more financial flexibility. Courts must look at all of these facets to paint a the whole child support picture. Raynor v. Raynor, 319 N.J.Super. 591, 614 (App. Div. 1999).
The New Jersey Superior Court has previously noted that, in fact, college students often require more financial support than high school students. Dunne v. Dunne, 209 N.J. Super. 559, 570 (App. Div. 1986). Plus, the Superior Court has previously recognized that most college students have a continued need to maintain a local residence even after moving onto a college campus, as well as a need for school supplies, transportation between college and the local residence, toiletries, laundry and cleaning supplies, etc. Hudson v. Hudson, 315 N.J. Super. 585, 584 (App. Div. 1998).
Now, this does not mean that child support will automatically increase when a child goes to college. However, New Jersey parents who are looking to petition the court for lesser support obligations for his or her college student must be aware that a reduction is not automatic. If the court goes through a full change of circumstances analysis, it may find that increased college expenses is a change in circumstance that warrants more child support, not less. Prior to filing a petition for modification, you should consult with an attorney to analyze all of the facts and circumstances of your case.
This post was drafted by Lisa Haggerty, third year law student at Temple, and edited by Linda A. Kerns, Esquire.