Authored by Lloyd C. Rosen
It is not uncommon for parties, when entering into an agreement to settle their divorce proceeding, to include a provision covering the parties' respective contribution towards college expenses. Many times, various issues come up with regard to room and board expenses. The non-custodial parent typically is obligated to pay child support. The function of child support is to assist the custodial parent to meet the basic living expenses of the children, i.e. food, shelter, clothing, sundries, etc.
What happens if the child goes away to college and lives in the dorm or if the child lives in off-campus housing or an apartment? If the parties agree to share the cost of college expenses, including room and board, this can result in a double dip of child support in that the basic child support is designated for, in part, food and shelter. This is exactly what the room and board charges (or rent and groceries in the case of off-campus housing) cover.
Therefore, a contribution toward room and board expenses typically overlaps the child support. For this reason, most Courts in this State have determined that when the non-custodial parent is contributing towards college room and board, they should receive a credit towards child support.
The amount of the credit varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In most cases, it is deemed to entitle the non-custodial parent to a dollar-for-dollar credit as against child support. Some Courts use a different approach, employing instead a pro rata credit against child support.
Consultation with an experienced matrimonial attorney is recommended to determine what your options are and what is most appropriate for your circumstances.
This credit towards child support, as with nearly every other issue set forth in a settlement agreement, is subject to negotiation and compromise by the parties. It is important to be clear in the agreement, however, as to what the credit, if any, would be, and exactly how it is to be calculated. By including more information and guidance in the agreement, you reduce the chance of future dispute and Court intervention (i.e. legal fees and expenses).