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Do You Have to Pay for College as a Part of a Divorce?

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So, you’ve been divorced for several years and now your ex-spouse asks you to help contribute to college. What is your obligation? Recently, the New Hampshire Supreme Court revisited this issue after its last opinion in 2006 addressing a divorcing parent’s obligation to pay or contribute toward college costs. In the latest New Hampshire Supreme Court decision, In the Matter of Poulin and Poulin, the Supreme Court decided that the parties’ 1996 divorce decree obligated the husband to contribute to his children’s college expenses. The parties Divorce Decree said that each parent would contribute to their college expenses in a “specific proportion,” “to the extent each party if financially able,” after deducting financial aid and the child’s own savings.

This was an important ruling for the divorced parents of fast-approaching college-age kids that should cause them to pull out their Divorce Decree and review the language of their Decree because that will help determine their obligation. The issue has been confusing for years because prior to 2004, the divorce court had broad powers to order divorced parents to contribute to their children’s college expense under state statute. After that Supreme Court declared that law unconstitutional because it was unfair to people who were not divorced, the Legislature amended the law to say that “no child support order shall require a parent to contribute to an adult child’s college expenses or other educational expenses beyond the competition of high school.”

Thus, this development matters to anyone who got divorced prior to 2004 who had minor children at the time and has language about college in the decree. The Poulin decision restates and clarifies that if the parties have a pre-2004 court order that requires them to contribute some money towards college, even if the amount is the precise or specific amount is not determined at the time the divorce decree is issued by the court, the trial court can now determine that amount and enforce the obligation to pay.

If after pulling your divorce decree, you are uncertain what the language means or how a court will interpret it, call Attorney Carolyn Garvey or Attorney Stephen A. Duggan who have over 35 years of combined legal experience to put to work for you and know the ins and outs of all aspect of divorce law. Call (603) 288-1403 or fill out our online contact form.