College Students Privacy Rights


This issue was dealt with in Van Brunt v. Van Brunt, 419 N.J. Super. 327 (Ch. Div. 2010).  A case of first impression in the State of New Jersey, the court was asked whether a court order requiring an unemancipated college student to produce proof of college attendance, course credits and grades to his/her parents as a condition for ongoing child support and college contribution violate the student’s right to privacy under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) 20 U.S.C.A. §§1232 (g).  The court was also asked to determine whose responsibility it was to provide the grades/records to the paying non-custodial parent i.e. the custodial parent or the student.

Many of you parents reading this are probably saying, “Of course I have a right to see my student’s grades, after all I am the one who is footing the bill.”  Well, you can all breath a sigh of relief, because the court in this case agreed with you.

FERPA is a federal law that provides students over 18 years old with certain privacy rights relative to their educational records.  Colleges generally cannot release such records to third persons without that student’s written authorization or in other certain limited circumstances Id. at 330.  Although written permission is generally required, schools can release such records to comply with a court order.

In this case, the father who was compelled to pay child support and/or college contribution had a right to verify the child’s collegiate status, as this information was necessary to determine whether the child should remain unemancipated.  The court held that the child could not use FERPA as a sword to block her father’s right to verify her ongoing status while simultaneously asserting that she is unemancipated and entitled to mandatory child support and college contribution from her father.

Furthermore, the court placed the responsibility for obtaining those grades and providing them to the father upon both the mother and the child.  If the child wants to remain unemancipated and receive child support and contribution for college then she has an obligation to provide course credit status, grades and college attendance records to her parents.  The mother has the obligation to forward the documentation she receives from her child to the father.  If the child fails to comply, then the father can file a new application for emancipation.

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