Is your child has been accepted to college for Fall, 2020, or is starting up again for another year at his or her college or university. In New Jersey, divorced or separated parents can and likely will be called upon if there is a dispute filed in court to contribute payment of college contribution. So, the question becomes – do you have any leverage over the school given the coronavirus crisis? As a family law attorney, I believe the answer is “yes.” Here is why.
First, be prepared to bargain with the financial aid officers. Even though they may be working from home, they are working albeit slowly. A prior financial aid award for your child was based on your 2018 income, but if you file an appeal, you can seek to use your 2019 income. You should know that colleges are in essence asking you what they want you to pay, so shift the question as to what you are able to pay. This discussion should be happening regardless of whether your child is or will be going to a private school or state university.
Second, do not rush to meet the notification deadline set out by the school. Right now, colleges are likely to desire to get the students they admitted signed up for Fall enrollment. So, if the school has extended the deadline, use that extra time to look through financial aid offers from other schools and feel free to ask for an extension of time to sign the enrollment contract.
Third, do not hesitate to tell the college if you or the other parent has lost a job, had a reduction in income, or suffered a business shutdown. Let the college know if income in 2020 will be less than 2018 or 2019. The financial aid officers will likely review the prior financial aid awards and recalculate based upon your 2020 income.
Fourth and finally, if the classes will not resume in person for the Fall either in whole or in part, you should call the financial aid office and seek a recalculation of costs, including room and board for the dormitories. Do not hesitate to have those discussions with those financial aid officers if the “full” college experience will not be available in the Fall, 2020.
It goes without saying, but you and the other parent should present a united front with the college or university. All discussions with the college should be agreed upon ahead of time, with further discussions about how to proceed based upon the results of the conversations with the financial aid office. Joint legal custody will require you and other parent to cooperate and to communicate, and you should always involve your child in these discussions.
Ronald Lieberman, Esq. is a Fellow in the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and Certified by the New Jersey Supreme Court as a Matrimonial Lawyer. He has the experience and expertise to help clients with even the most unique circumstances. College contribution is a sensitive family law issue often requiring timeliness. It is important to address issues involving contribution to college long before the Fall semester starts.