Believe it or not, this was a recent headline. A 21-old-year woman from New Jersey, who wasn’t on speaking terms with her parents, sued her mother and father to contribute to her college tuition. And she won $16,000.00.
How in the world can this happen you ask? First, the young woman’s parents are divorced. As in Illinois, under New Jersey law, divorced parents can be ordered to make a contribution to the child’s college expenses.
Section 513 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act allows the court to allocate expenses between both parents, as well as the child, based upon an examination of factors which include the parties’ financial resources, the standard of living the child would have enjoyed if the parties had not divorced, the child’s financial resources and the child’s academic prowess.
In the New Jersey matter, prior to this most recent ruling that requires the parents to dole out $16,000, another judge ordered that the parents shall help with tuition so long as the child “applied for loans and scholarships.” Her parents claim she didn’t apply, so they refused to pay. That’s when their daughter, who had long been estranged, filed the lawsuit.
The court did not think the daughter failed apply for loans and scholarships. Also, even though the daughter refuses to speak with her parents, the judge ordered that the parents shall still contribute to college expenses as previously determined.
To some, the ruling is troublesome for a number of reasons. In the legal context, it illustrates the incongruity in this area of the law. The court inquires about the “standard of living” the child would have enjoined had the parents not been divorced. One can presume this is to provide the child with the same treatment a child of an intact family would receive. On the other hand, the court would never have the authority to order non-divorced parents to pay for college expenses. Nonetheless, courts order divorced parents to pay for their children’s college tuition everyday. There is a clear double standard.
Could the court order in the New Jersey case provided, “if the child does not speak with parents the parents won’t have to contribute to college expenses”? Not likely. One cannot force relationships but can force payment through a court order.