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Bill would shield divorced parents from forced tuition rulings

A state lawmaker is drafting a bill that could prevent children from forcing their divorced parents to pay for their college tuition. The legislation comes on the heels of a judge’s decision involving the 21-year-old estranged daughter of a divorced New Jersey couple.

(Digital Vision, ThinkStock)

A judge ordered parents Michael Ricci and Maura McGarvey  to pay for their daughter’s out-of-state tuition at Temple University, despite the fact that the parents had already agreed on a plan to send 21-year-old Caitlyn Ricci to a less expensive, in-state college. Assemblyman Chris J. Brown (R-Medford) said current law gave the judge no choice, but he is drafting legislation to address the issue.

“The law erodes the ability of the parents to be parents (and) to decide what’s best for them as a family,” Brown said. “The parents agreed on an education plan for their daughter. People can’t fathom how a court could say, ‘Your decision on what’s good for your life and your family is not good enough. I’m going to decide otherwise.'”

In his ruling, the judge cited a 1982 State Supreme Court ruling (Newburgh v. Arrigo) that stated divorced parents are responsible for providing for their child’s college education. The child can choose any college at any price and the divorced parents have to pay, even if they amicably agreed on sending their child to a different school.

“Right now, when the parents are married and they decide, there’s no case. It’s the decision of the parents. Once they’re divorced the law kicks in. I think that’s wrong. I think it’s a defect in the law and I’m hoping that this bill will correct that,” Brown said.

Currently there is no bill. Brown said he is working with the non-partisan Office of Legislative Services to craft legislation that meets legal muster. He explained that he envisions a bill that would allow divorced parents to decide on a higher education plan for their children and once the agreement is reached, the courts would be taken out of the equation.

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