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What Is the SUNY Cap?

What Is the SUNY Cap?

While there is no legal provision mandating parental contribution to college expenses in New York, the New York legislature has nonetheless given courts the discretion to order parental contribution "based upon the circumstances of the case and of the respective parties."

The SUNY Cap is a tool used by New York courts to assess what parental contribution may be expected for a particular student's college education. It is calculated based on the cost of tuition, Room and Board at a SUNY school. The idea behind the SUNY Cap is to ensure that the financial burden of higher education after divorce does not exceed what it would cost to attend a state university.

Are Divorced Parents Obligated to Pay for College in NY?

In New York, divorced parents are not automatically obligated to pay for their child's college expenses. The determining factor is often the divorce settlement itself. If the settlement  explicitly states that the parents will contribute to college costs, they are legally bound to do so. However, if the agreement is silent on this matter, it's not a given that the court will mandate such contributions. It largely depends on the specific circumstances of the family.

The court's decision takes into account many factors, including the educational background of the parents, the child's academic performance, and the family's financial situation. It's important to note that even if a parent is ordered to contribute towards college costs, they are typically only expected to contribute up to the amount of the SUNY Cap. This limit is based on the cost of a State University of New York (SUNY) education, including tuition, room and board, and other fees.

New York courts also consider the child's ability to earn income and the availability of financial aid or scholarships. This means that while the SUNY Cap sets a maximum limit on parental contributions, the actual amount a parent may be required to pay could be less, depending on the child's own financial resources and merit-based aid.

How Does the SUNY Cap Work?

The SUNY Cap operates as a benchmark that standardizes the potential financial responsibility of parents toward their child's higher education. It's important to emphasize that the SUNY Cap does not necessarily represent the exact amount that a parent will be required to contribute. Instead, it serves as a cap, or maximum limit, on the financial contribution that a court may order a parent to make.

Several considerations factor into the calculation of the SUNY Cap:

  • The annual cost of attending a SUNY school, including tuition, room and board, and other associated fees.
  • Any adjustments for inflation or increases in SUNY tuition fees.
  • The cost of books and other necessary supplies for the student's course of study.

It's essential to understand that the court's decision is discretionary and depends on the individual circumstances of the case. While the SUNY Cap sets an upper limit, the court may order a parent to contribute less than the cap amount based on various factors. These can include the family's financial situation, the child's ability to contribute towards their education through work or scholarships, and the parents' educational background. In other words, while the SUNY Cap provides a measure of predictability, the actual parental contribution towards college expenses in New York divorce cases can vary considerably.

Pros and Cons of Including College Expenses in Your Divorce Settlement

Deciding whether to include college expenses in your divorce settlement can be a difficult decision. Building this into the settlement can provide clarity and peace of mind for some families. For others, it may feel unnecessary or unsuitable for their circumstances.


One of the primary benefits of incorporating college expenses into your divorce settlement is clarity. It simplifies the financial aspect of child education and provides both parents with a clear understanding of their respective responsibilities. This measure can help to prevent future disputes and court interventions, which can be stressful, time-consuming, and costly.

It also offers the child a more stable and predictable financial future, significantly reducing their stress and allowing them to concentrate on their studies. Furthermore, by agreeing to contribute towards college expenses, parents can ensure that their child's educational opportunities aren't limited due to financial constraints.


On the other hand, there are potential downsides to consider. Determining the exact cost of future education can be challenging. Tuition fees and costs associated with a college education can fluctuate over time, and it may not be easy to forecast these expenses accurately. Agreeing to share the cost of college can also lead to financial strain, especially if your circumstances change unexpectedly.

Considering the rapid rise in the cost of higher education, even for in-state tuition, it is essential to consider the potential implications of including college expenses in your divorce settlement.

Tips for Including the SUNY Cap in Your Divorce Settlement

When including the SUNY Cap in your divorce settlement, it is crucial to be as specific as possible. Ensure the agreement clearly outlines what the cap covers, such as tuition, room and board, books, and transportation. Detailed explanations can minimize potential disagreements in the future about what the cap includes and excludes.

Be sure your agreement covers the following:

  • Specify the expenses covered: List the college expenses that will be covered. This can include tuition fees, room and board, transportation, books, and supplies.
  • Specify a SUNY college: Specify which SUNY college the agreement refers to, as tuition can vary widely across the SUNY system.
  • Account for the rise in tuition: Be clear whether you are agreeing to the cost of a SUNY college at the time of your agreement or whether you are agreeing to the tuition cost at the time your child goes to college.
  • Specify how you will fund your contribution: If you plan to use a 529 or a trust fund, specify that in your agreement.
  • Decide how the expenses will be divided between you, your ex, and your child: Decide how much each person is responsible for contributing towards the college expenses.
  • Account for a Room and Board cap: Make sure to address how child support is impacted by the payment of Room and Board.

By outlining these details, you can ensure that your agreement is clear and enforceable. The SUNY Cap provides a measure of predictability regarding college expenses after divorce. Still, it's important to bear in mind that the court has discretion when deciding on parental contribution levels.

Seek Trusted Legal Counsel

Suppose you plan to include the SUNY cap or another provision regarding college expenses in your divorce settlement. In that case, it is crucial that you seek reliable legal advice when negotiating the terms of the settlement. At Friedman & Friedman PLLC, Attorneys at Law, we can guide you through the potential implications of different provisions and help you avoid potential pitfalls.

We understand that deciding on college expenses can be a complicated process. Still, we are committed to helping you make an informed decision and ensure the best outcome for your family. With our knowledgeable legal guidance, you can have peace of mind that your agreement is fair and enforceable. Let us help you every step of the way.

To learn more about how Friedman & Friedman PLLC, Attorneys at Law, can help you with your divorce settlement, contact us online or call us at (914) 873-4410.