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The Effect of Divorce on Children’s College Educations


Pursuant to New York Domestic Relations Law § 240, child support for an unemancipated child continues until that child reaches the age of 21. The law itself states that child support is for the “care, maintenance and education” of the child. As such, it is typical for a parent to be ordered to pay for part of their child’s higher education as part of a child support order:

  • The age of your children matters. If your child or children were young when you and your spouse were divorced, your order may not include language about higher education, unless you specifically agreed to support your child or included a provision to revisit the issue later.
  • Certain life changes will impact whether you are required to pay child support. If your child is emancipated, is married, or has joined the US armed forces, you can ask the court to terminate your child support order due to your child’s emancipation.
  • College is still a luxury. Although there are no laws that say a person must attend college or university, child support is intended to help fund your child’s education. As parents who are still married are not required to help their children pay for college expenses, you can make a strong argument that you should not be, either. Thus, if you are planning on paying for college, it is worth discussing the benefits of a 529 plan with both your attorney and your financial planner or accountant before your child is ready for college.

The “SUNY cap”

If you and your spouse agree (or are ordered) to contribute to your child or children’s college educations, the “SUNY cap” can help create a firmer boundary for that support. This “cap” can limit how much parents are obligated to contribute to the current costs of attending a SUNY school, even if the child ultimately attends a more expensive university. Because the costs associated with higher education can change – and because there are 64 unique SUNY campuses – you still need to discuss what this cap means with your matrimonial law attorney. By doings so, you will also have a good starting point for negotiations when it comes to higher education contributions.

The “Rohrs” Credit

If you are paying child support while your child is attending college, you could be entitled to a credit for your child’s room and board against your child support. This is called the “Rohrs” credit (Rohrs v Rohrs, 297 AD2d 317 [2d Dept 2002]), but it is not guaranteed. The theory behind this credit is that child support is in part for your child’s shelter expenses, and thus if you are paying for your child’s shelter at college, i.e. room and board, you should not be obligated to pay for this shelter cost twice.

At Berkman Bottger Newman & Schein, LLP, our experienced NYC family law attorneys can help you if your child or children are ready to go to college. Schedule your consultation today by calling (212) 466-6015 or filling out our contact form. Proudly serving New York, Westchester, and Bergen County, NJ.