February 10, 2015 By Paul Wallin
tuition lawsuit
Caitlyn Ricci sues her parents for not paying her college tuition and wins

Recently, a county court in Camden County, New Jersey ordered the divorced parents of 21-year-old Caitlyn Ricci, a college student, to pay her tuition at Temple University.1 The rule is in accordance with the law of New Jersey. In 1982, the New Jersey Supreme Court held in the landmark case Newburg v. Arrigo that college can be deemed a necessity.2 This case contained an outline of 12 relevant factors, now called “Newburg factors,” for the court to consider.3 These factors include whether the parents have the ability to pay, the family would pay for school if the parents were still married, and communication between the parents and child.4

As of this writing, both parents had not paid their daughter’s tuition. A Superior Court judge in Camden refused to penalize the parents through $100-a-day sanctions and a finding of contempt of court.5 The next step is for the appellate court to address whether the parents must pay the tuition. Ricci’s parents have appealed the order, arguing that Ricci did not show evidence that the Newburg factors had been met. Specifically, both parents said Ricci had not seen them in the two years preceding the lawsuit, and that Ricci did not discuss her application to Temple University with them.6

Am I Required to Pay My Child’s College Tuition?

The question of whether a parent must pay a child’s college tuition is dependent on many factors, including:

  • State law
  • Whether the parents are divorced
  • The child’s age
  • The educational and special needs of the child.

In California, parents do not have an obligation to support a child over the age of 18.7 If a child is under 18, both parents have a mutual obligation to support the child “in a manner suitable to the child’s circumstances.”8 There is no legal precedent that would answer the question of whether a California court will order divorced parents to pay for a child’s college tuition. A court might order the parents to pay the costs if the child could show that such expenses were related to the educational or special needs of the child.9 The cost of college tuition would be deemed additional child support.10

In California, a prenuptial agreement and/or Marriage Settlement Agreement (MSA) could be an instrument that binds you to pay for your child’s college tuition. A court may inquire as to whether a parent has made an agreement to provide additional support for a child.11

Why Were Ricci’s Parents Ordered to Pay Her Tuition?

Caitlyn Ricci’s story is atypical. Ricci has not seen her mother outside of a courtroom since high school. She moved out of her mother’s house at that time because the two were having difficulty getting along, and moved in with her grandparents. Ricci never lived with her father, but visited him often while growing up.12

Ricci’s parents are appealing the ruling because they think they think Ricci’s tuition is excessive. As an out-of-state student, Ricci must pay $26,000 each year in tuition. Her parents have each been ordered to pay the portion of the cost that they can afford.13

Theoretically, state court rulings regarding college tuition do not affect only divorced parents. Ricci’s case has raised the question as to whether New Jersey is discriminating against divorced parents. Several state court rulings there have required divorced parents to pay for their children’s college tuition. There have been no such orders made against married parents.14

Call the Child Support Attorneys at Wallin & Klarich

If you have any questions about your legal obligations regarding child support, spousal support, division of property or child custody, you can speak to an experienced family law attorney at Wallin & Klarich. Our skilled family law attorneys have over 30 years of experience successfully representing our clients in family law matters. We can help you now.

With offices in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks, Torrance, Tustin, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, West Covina and Victorville, there is a skilled Wallin & Klarich family law attorney available to help you no matter where you work or live.

Call us today at (888) 749-7428 for a free phone consultation. We will be there when you call.

1. ABC News, November 13, 2014. Parents Ordered to Pay Estranged Daughter’s Tuition. See http://abcnews.go.com/US/parents-ordered-pay-estranged-daughters-college-tuition/story?id=26889667

2. Newburgh v. Arrigo, 88 N.J. 529 (1982).

3. Id.

4. Id.

5. South Jersey Times, December 22, 2014. No contempt of court for South Jersey parents sued for college tuition. See http://www.nj.com/gloucester-county/index.ssf/2014/12/no_contempt_of_court_for_south_jersey_parents_sued_for_college_tuition.html

6. Id.

7. California Family Code (CFC) § 3900.

8. CFC § 3900.

9. CFC §4062(b)(1).

10. CFC §4062(b)(1).

11. CFC § 3901(b).

12. Id.

13. Id.

14. Id.

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