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NJ Parents Forced to Pay College Tuition – Could it Happen in Wisconsin?

Posted on in Family Law

By Attorney Max Stephenson

graduationIn the category of “you can’t make this stuff up,” is a family law case out of Camden County, New Jersey.  In the case, Temple College Junior, Caitlyn Ricci, sued her divorced parents after they refused to pay her college tuition. While the terms of their divorce settlement settled the issue of child support, there was no stipulation as to how her college education would be paid.

According to the CBS affiliate in Philadelphia, during her childhood, Ricci’s parents did their best to support each other in parenting their daughter. Upon graduating from high school in 2012 it was determined that Caitlyn would attend Gloucester County College and live at home with her mother.  In an effort to prove she was ready to take the next step and live away from home, she accepted an internship at Walt Disney World.  The internship, however, was terminated when she was sent home for underage drinking. After a dispute with her parents about living away from home and attending school out of state, she moved in with her paternal grandparents.

In August 2013, Ricci sued her parents in an effort to receive compensation for tuition money to Temple University, in Philadelphia, where she is currently enrolled, as well as tuition for the county college she attended upon her return from the internship. In November of 2014, a judge ruled in favor of Caitlyn, ordering her parents to pay her $16,000/year for her college tuition.

At the heart of this case is a controversial law in New Jersey, and a handful of other states, that requires divorced parents to pay (where appropriate) for a child’s college or other post secondary educational program. Additionally, parents are also required to pay some level of child support (typically decreased) while the child is in college.

Currently, Ricci’s parents are seeking to gain emancipation from their daughter, which could end their obligation to pay the tuition. Additionally, New Jersey Lawmakers are in the process of introducing a bill that would block New Jersey courts from treating college funding requirements for divorced parents differently than for married parents.

Ricci’s parents chose to wage a battle against a law in light of copycat cases from other disgruntled teens coming to light. In one such case, an 18 year old was asked to leave her parent’s home because she did not want to abide by their rules. The teen sued her parents, who were not divorced, for the cost of her private high school tuition as well as the cost of any impending college tuition.  The case was eventually dropped after the girl and her parents reconciled.

This brings up a logical question, “could this happen in Wisconsin?” Currently in Wisconsin, divorced parents are required to pay child support until their minor children reach the age of 18 or until that child graduates high school, whichever comes later.  However, the graduation of high school deadline is capped at the child reaching the age of 19.

If you have a family law concern, we recommend you speak to a professional who has experience handling the nuances of these sensitive issues

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