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Divorcing Parents in New York Need to Thinking About Paying for Their Children’s College

The average cost of an in-state college education in New York is $19,306 per year, according to CollegeCalc.org.

Every New York parent will no doubt find that number scary. And if you are a divorced parent, paying for your child's education is something you must pay special attention to.

Syracuse, New York, family law attorney Richard J. Bombardo notes it is common for divorcing parents to come to an agreement regarding their children's college education.

“Some parents choose to split the costs equally. In other cases, they may contribute a share based on their respective earnings. Parents also may agree to abide by what is known as the 'SUNY cap.' This means that even if the child goes to an expensive private school, the parents' contribution is limited to the costs of attending a public university.”

Bombardo added that when parents enter into an agreement regarding their child's college, it is a binding contract.

“A New York court can, and will, enforce a parent's agreement to pay for their child's college. It is basically no different than any other form of child support.”

Indeed, a New York appeals court recently addressed this issue. In the Matter of Susko v. Susko involved a divorced couple from Saratoga County. The divorce took place in 2015. At the time, the parents entered into a settlement agreement. The agreement said the parents would “each contribute to the costs of each child's college education” based on their “financial ability.” The parents also had to consent to the child's choice of college. But such consent could not be “unreasonably withheld.”

Two years later, the mother sued the father to enforce this agreement.

The parents' oldest child was about to enter college. The mother alleged the father had made “only a minimal financial contribution” and withheld his consent. The Family Court determined the father had violated the agreement, but his violation “was not willful.”

In a March 5, 2020, decision, the Appellate Division, Third Department, the appellate court reversed the lower court, with the Family Court. The Third Department concurred the father violated the agreement. But it said the violation was willful. This matters because the father must now pay the mother's legal fees.

The appeals court noted the father was “evasive” when asked how much he would contribute.

Nor did the father express any opinions about the child's choice of college. In fact, when the child was accepted to a school, the father said “that is great” and paid the deposit. These actions demonstrated “implied consent.” It also triggered the father's obligation to make a full contribution “commensurate with his ability to pay.”

Contact Richard Bombardo with Bombardo Law Office, P.C. to discuss your case.

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