Is step-parent income used when determining college contribution? Financial aid forms request this information. How does the law in NJ view the income of a step=parent when determining how much the actual parent has to contribute? Do you just look at the income or are other factors as to how the step-parent spends their income? I understand a step=parent does not support a step-child nut I thought step-parent's income comes into play when college contribution is decided.
Also is there any comparison of educational institutions between the two families, e.g. private versus public, secondary school versus college? Any case law on this?
Financial aid of a college student is based upon the income of the household in which the child resides. If this household includes a high income step parent than it works in the college financial aid formula to decrease or eliminate financial aid that would otherwise be available. NJ does not require the step parent to contribute to the step child college costs. The usual argument made by the NCP is that the mother of the student has a greater ability to pay due to the contribution the step parent makes to her costs in the household. As with all other college cases, they are individual and on a case by case basis. It can create higher costs for the NCP due to decreased financial aid.
A step parent's income does not come into play in determining the college contribution paid by each parent.
The foregoing answer is submitted for informational purposes, and is not intended as a specific answer to the question posed. Always consult with an attorney prior to signing any and all agreements. The firm of Newman & Ingemi, LLC does not represent you unless and until you enter into a signed Retainer Agreement with the firm.
The court will not consider a step-parent's income to determine college contribution. The court will consider the parents' incomes and will determine each party's ability to pay (if no other method of payment is noted in the parties' written agreement, if they have one). There is some case law on the comparison of college expenses (public v. private school). However, unless either party is in a position to pay for all of the expenses related to the colleges, the differences in expenses will probably not come into play. In most cases, a court will determine a party's ability to contribute to college, regardless as to whether the college is private or public.
This answer does not constitute the establishment of an attorney/client relationship nor is there any guarantee that this advice will be completely effective in a court of law. A consultation, including review of court orders and other documents is necessary in order for me to give you proper advice and guidance.
The answer to your question is an interesting one. From a strictly technical perspective, a stepparent's income is not supposed to be a factor when determining the biological parent's contribution toward college costs. Generally, a stepparent has no legal obligation to support his or her spouse's children from a prior marriage; that is the responsibility of the child's biological parents. This has been held in a variety of cases, perhaps the most important of which is Cumberland County Board of Social Services v. W.J.P., an Appellate Division case published in 2000.
Nevertheless, judges sometimes utilize a backdoor to consider a stepparent's income, especially where that income is significant. Under a 1982 New Jersey Supreme Case case called Newburgh v. Arrigo, the Court will consider the following factors in setting a parent's obligation toward college costs:
(1) whether the parent, if still living with the child, would have contributed toward the costs of the requested higher education;
(2) the effect of the background, values and goals of the parent on the reasonableness of the expectation of the child for higher education;
(3) the amount of the contribution sought by the child for the cost of higher education;
(4) the ability of the parent to pay that cost;
(5) the relationship of the requested contribution to the kind of school or course of study sought by the child;
(6) the financial resources of both parents;
(7) the commitment to and aptitude of the child for the requested education;
(8) the financial resources of the child, including assets owned individually or held in custodianship or trust;
(9) the ability of the child to earn income during the school year or on vacation;
(10) the availability of financial aid in the form of college grants and loans;
(11) the child's relationship to the paying parent, including mutual affection and shared goals as well as responsiveness to parental advice and guidance; and
(12) the relationship of the education requested to any prior training and to the overall long range goals of the child.
As you can see, under factor (4), the Court is required to look into the parents' "ability to pay." Ability to pay is a flexible concept and it will ultimately turn on the specific facts and circumstances of any given case. It's going to make a substantial difference if, for example, a single parent earns $50,000 per year as opposed to a remarried parent who earns $50,000 per year but his or her new spouse (the stepparent) earns an additional $1,000,000 per year.
Despite technically equal incomes, the Court will almost certainly require the second parent (whose husbands earns $1,000,000 per year) to contribute more toward the children's college costs. Virtually the entirety of his or her income is free to meet that expense, whereas the single parent earning $50,000 per year must use those funds to get by from day to day and therefore has a reduced "ability to pay."
Ultimately, the answer to whether a stepparent must contribute is "yes and no." The law surrounding contribution toward college costs is extremely complex and still developing year by year. I strongly suggest reaching out to an attorney if you are in the midst of litigating or negotiating contribution to college costs. Few issues in the child support area are as expensive and important, and the costs of hiring a qualified attorney now will almost certainly be outweighed by the costs of failing to ensure that your children receive everything to which they are entitled under the law.
I will address your second question in a comment below this answer, as Avvo is restricting how much I can write here.
Unless you have signed a retainer agreement with my law firm, I am not your attorney and we do not have an attorney-client relationship. Any statements here set forth general principles only; I cannot guarantee that those statements are applicable to the specific facts of your case or that a court of law will agree with those statements. It is not possible to provide sufficient legal guidance without the benefit of a free in-depth case evaluation at my office in Somerville, NJ. Unfortunately, I cannot perform a sufficient evaluation based on a paragraph or two here on Avvo.
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