College tuition conditioned on family counseling

A father who has an estranged relationship with his teenage son can refuse to contribute to the son’s college expenses unless the son agrees to participate in family counseling, according to a New Jersey court.

The father and mother had divorced years earlier, and the divorce agreement said that both parents would contribute to the children’s college expenses based on their ability to pay at the time the children were ready for college.

After the divorce, the father’s relationship with the oldest child soured. The father wanted to make things better, but the son refused to speak to him.

The son enrolled at a private out-of-state school that cost $22,000 a year after financial aid. The son (and the mother) demanded that the father contribute to the cost. But the father refused to pay anything as long as the son wasn’t trying to have a relationship with him.

The court sided with the father. It said that while a parent could be required to pay for college despite an estranged relationship – especially if the parent were at fault – this case was different because the son was the one who refused to participate in counseling.

According to the court, a parent-child relationship is “a two-way street,” and the son’s behavior was “fundamentally unfair.”

The court made two other interesting rulings. One was that the son couldn’t dictate how much the father had to pay based on where he chose to go to school. The court said the father – who had a modest income – should only have to pay what he could reasonably afford, and if that amount didn’t cover the son’s college costs, the son would have to attend a less expensive school.

The court also noted that there were two younger children in the family, both of whom were also planning to attend college. It said that the amount the father had to contribute to the oldest son’s education should be reduced to reflect the assumption that the father would contribute equal amounts for the other children.