Where a divorce settlement agreement contains a SUNY cap on the parents’ obligations to contribute to college expenses, do you subtract financial aid first from the SUNY cap, or first from the total actual costs of the child who chose to attend a private college? Do you include loans in the “financial aid” formula?

In its February 20, 2014 decision in Apjohn v. Lubinski, the Third Department decided to benefit the child.

The parties’ 1994 separation agreement contained a SUNY cap provision limiting the obligations of these parents to contribute to their then 1-year-old son’s college education. Each parent’s obligation would be limited to half of the cost of tuition, room and board at a college or university that is part of the State University of New York.

The agreement further provided that the son must apply to “the said college or university” for all possible grants, scholarships and financial aid before either party would be obliged to pay any college costs. Here, the son applied for and obtained financial aid from the private college where he enrolled in September 2011. the son also received an outside scholarship.

Refusing to make any contribution, the father contended that the agreement required the son to apply to a SUNY institution for financial aid. As the son did not do so (he applied to his private college), the father argued he had no obligation to contribute anything.

The Third Department resolved the ambiguity as to whether the requirement to apply to “the said college or university” for financial aid referred to a SUNY institution or to the college attended by the son, by noting that the agreement did not require the son to attend or apply for admission at a SUNY school. (The father also did not show that it was  possible to apply to a SUNY institution for financial aid without also applying for admission.)

Continue Reading Applying the Ambiguous SUNY-Capped Contribution-to-College Clause

College Fund 1.jpgAugust is off-to-college month. For divorced parents, the joys and sorrows of a child leaving the nest are often compounded by the parents’ disagreement over their division of college expenses.

Last Spring’s decision of the Second Department in Yorke v. Yorke provides guidance.  The parties are the parents of a child who entered college beginning in the Fall 2007 semester.  By two 2007 orders, the father was directed to pay 83% of the college tuition for the subject child prior to March 2009, and 82% of the tuition thereafter.

Those orders provided that the father was not responsible for contributing towards the child’s room and board at college.  This 2011 opinion did not discuss why room and board had been excluded, or the basis for the prospective (2009) change in the allocated percentages.

Instead, this 2010 Family Court, Orange County, proceeding involved only the calculation of the father’s  share of tuition. At the heart of the dispute was the effect of the child’s financial aid package, both as it reduced the tuition expense, but also as it was required to be spread over the costs for room and board.

Continue Reading College Financial Aid and Calculating the Divorced Parent's Pro Rata Obligation for Tuition