It is not uncommon for divorce settlement agreements to limit a parent’s contribution to a child’s college education to a portion of the expense to attend a campus within the State University of New York system. This is known as the “SUNY cap.”
A scholarly October, 2011 decision of New York County Supreme Court Justice Matthew F. Cooper tackled head-on the assumption that a court would not impose on a parent a share of the expenses of a private college education.
Pamela T. v. Marc B., involved the parents of 16- and 18-year old sons. The older boy, a child with “moderate emotional difficulty,” was a freshman at Syracuse University intending to study computer engineering and computer graphics. He was a graduate of a selective public Manhattan high school. The decision resolved the father’s objection to paying more than his share of a SUNY education.
A SUNY education would cost approximately $18,000 per year. Syracuse University, on the other hand, costs three times that amount, some $53,000 per year.
Both parents were lawyers, with private college and law school backgrounds. Each parent earned just over $100,000 per year. The mother had some $1,230,000 in savings and retirement accounts; the father $580,000.
Justice Cooper directed the father to bear 40% of the costs of that Syracuse University education. There is no SUNY cap mandated by New York law. The thrust of Justice Cooper’s decision was that:
the SUNY cap–to the extent that it stands for the proposition that before a parent can be compelled to contribute towards the cost of a private college there must be a showing that a child cannot receive an adequate education at a state college–is a doctrine that in many cases is harmful to the children of divorced parents, acts to discriminate against them, and is largely unworkable.