The only time a parent may be required to contribute to the college expenses of a child is when the parties are separated or divorced. Otherwise, parents may choose whether or how much to contribute to the college expenses of their children and a court will not make either parent pay. When determining how much parents will contribute in connection with a divorce or separation, a court will consider all the circumstances existing at the time the child goes off to college. These factors include the educational level of the parents, where the parents went to school, the aptitude of the child, the desires of the child, the incomes and assets of the parents and the college savings of the child.
There is a bit of a rule of thumb in the greater Rochester area. In many cases, the contribution of the parents is capped at a SUNY level, so that the parent’s contribution to tuition, room and board, fees, transportation and the like is limited to the cost of a SUNY level education, with each parents’ respective contributions divided in proportion to their incomes. Even when applying this approach, some judges will require that the child contribute as well. In those cases, a judge might apportion the first third of the SUNY cap as the child’s responsibility, with the remaining two thirds divided between the parents in proportion to income.
Many people notice there is double dipping of payment for living expenses where a parent paying child support is also paying room and board for a child attending school away from home. Courts have recognized this as well, and there are cases where the courts have addressed this double dipping. The doctrine has evolved over the years and has some finer points, but the broad approach is that a parent who contributes to the room and board can receive a reduction in their child support obligation often in the same amount as they contribute to room and board.