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How the SUNY Cap Can Affect Sharing of Post-Divorce College Expenses

In New York State, child support covers basic needs such as housing, food, clothing and education until a child reaches age 21. That can include college attendance to the extent it is within the parents’ financial ability. The SUNY Cap is a financial guideline regularly used by New York Courts to determine the maximum amount divorced parents may be required to contribute towards college tuition and expenses.

The SUNY Cap is based on the cost of attendance at a college within the State University of New York system, which tends to be more affordable compared to private institutions. The SUNY Cap includes several costs: tuition, room and board, fees, books and other necessary educational expenses.

When applying the SUNY Cap in a divorce case, a judge evaluates the economic situations of both parents, including each one’s income, assets, debts and overall ability to contribute. The judge aims to balance the child’s educational needs with the parents’ financial capacities, ensuring that the support order is fair and reasonable.

The SUNY Cap is not an automatic entitlement but a benchmark. Parents may agree to exceed the cap or stipulate different terms based on their personal circumstances. In certain circumstances, the Courts may not direct either parent to pay for college due to the finances of the parties.  If parents decide to incorporate the cap into their divorce settlement, the following details should be covered:

  1. The exact costs included in the cap — Define what is considered part of the cap (e.g., tuition, room and board, books, fees and travel costs).
  2. Proportional contributions — Specify how much each parent will contribute towards these expenses, whether directly or through a 529 plan or other form of trust.
  3. Adjustments for scholarships and financial aid — Include provisions for incorporating any scholarships, grants or financial aid the child may receive.
  4. Duration of payments — State the period during which the contributions will be made, typically up to the child’s 21st birthday or the parties may agree until they complete their undergraduate degree.
  5. Procedures for cost review — Establish how and when the actual costs will be reviewed and adjusted, if necessary, to align with the cap.

When the non-custodial parent pays for room and board costs of a child, that payment will act as a credit against that child’s child support. Thus, a party will reduce their child support by the monthly sum during the academic year based upon their contribution to the room and board costs of a child. However, this amount cannot infringe upon the other child/children’s child support. The reason for the credit as that part of child support goes to housing and food. Thus, if the credit is not given, there would be a double shelter allowance.  Thus, it is important that this credit is incorporated into an agreement. If the agreement is silent, then the credit cannot be applied. 

Parents should be aware that while the SUNY Cap can serve as a useful guideline, putting flexibility and clarity into the agreement can avoid future conflicts. Given the complexity of college expense planning — especially in light of continually rising tuition and related costs — it’s essential to seek professional guidance. A financial planner can help devise a sustainable plan for funding education while maintaining financial stability for both parents. A skilled child support attorney can ensure the college expenses provisions of the divorce settlement comply with legal standards and effectively address all necessary aspects.

At Jakubowski, Robertson, Maffei, Goldsmith & Tartaglia, LLP in St. James, we work with divorcing parents throughout Long Island so that their children obtain the financial support they need. To arrange a consultation, call us at 631-360-0400 or contact us online.