As part of our divorce decree, my ex-wife agreed to pay 40% of all college tuition, fees and necessities. She told me last week that she is broke, has no money and no intention of contributing to the cost of college.
What are my legal rights in this case? Do I have to hire a lawyer, which I can’t afford, to chase after what she is legally bound to pay or can I go after her through the state?
First, let me preface my answer by stating that I am not licensed to practice law in the state of New Jersey. The information in the article is general in nature. You should contact an attorney in your jurisdiction immediately to discuss your options.
Your question is about your ex-wife’s inability to comply with the terms in your final divorce order. Before anything can be done in court, she has to actually fail to comply with the terms of the order. Saying that you cannot do something, and actually not doing it are two different things.
You should try to talk with your ex-spouse about your concerns. Talk to her about her inability to pay and see if you can work out a resolution that will allow your daughters to enroll in college. Maybe you can pay for the full amount and she will pay you back in payments. Or, she could get a loan (from a family member or a lending institution) to pay for her portion in advance. The government also offers student loan options for parents that can be paid back with a low interest rate. Keep a journal or record of your attempts to work out an agreement with her. If you send her letters, send them certified mail, so that you have proof they were delivered to her. Judges like to know that you have tried to resolve matters before bringing them to court.
If you cannot reach an agreement, then you can file a motion with the court that entered your final divorce order for enforcement of that order. After your daughters are enrolled in college, and your ex-wife has not paid her portion of the fees, you can ask the judge to force her to do so. The judge will determine if there are enough material facts to indicate that your wife has not fulfilled her obligation, and set the matter for a hearing.
If you decided to file a motion with the court you should consult a local attorney. A family court can deny your motion on technical or procedural grounds if all of the legal requirements of the New Jersey court rules are not met. An experienced divorce attorney will know these requirements, and ensure that you file a motion that is thoroughly drafted. Additionally, if the judge ultimately decides in your favor, and if the judge finds that the other party is not complying with a previous court order, then he or she may award you counsel fees, if you have an attorney, and may even impose sanctions.
You should contact an attorney who is licensed in New Jersey to further discuss the specifics of your situation. Thank you for submitting your question.
Jill A. Duffy is an Associate Attorney in the Troy, Mich., office of Cordell & Cordell. She is licensed to practice in the state of Michigan. Ms. Duffy received her BA in Psychology and Spanish and graduated Magna Cum Laude from Oakland University. She received her Juris Doctor from Michigan State University College of Law and graduated Magna Cum Laude.