Private school costs in New Jersey divorces

by Jeralyn Lawrence, Family Law Attorney, Lawrence Law

In a New Jersey case where the parties’ agreement calls for them to “equally divide…school costs,” and one party does not contribute to the costs for years, even though not explicitly asked to do so, a court can enforce the agreement and compel contribution. In the unpublished Appellate Division case of Fanelli v. Hnatowski, the court held that great deference must be afforded to parties’ agreements. The terms of the agreement must be enforced when the terms of the agreement are clear.

The court held that “school costs” as defined in the agreement included private school. Defendant’s failure to object to the children’s attendance in private school over nine years operated as implicit consent. In this application, Plaintiff did not seek reimbursement for 50% of the private school costs for the nine-year period during which Defendant failed to contribute. However, Plaintiff did seek 50% of the tuition and costs moving forward. The court

granted the application and ordered enforcement of the agreement and an equal contribution to private school.

The strong public policy in New Jersey is to enforce agreements. As one of our courts primary concerns is to protect our children, they often err on the side of protecting children’s financial interests. Please contact me at if you have questions about this post or any other family law matter.

Jeralyn Lawrence is a family law attorney with Lawrence Law in Watchung. She also serves as Second Vice President of the New Jersey State Bar Association (slated to become President in 2022), is the Past Chair of the Family Law Section of the NJSBA, and serves as Second Vice-President of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. She can be reached at or (908) 645-1000.

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