Can I be Made to Contribute to My Child’s College Education?

A person makes a payment over the internetIllinois Law has a strange quirk when it comes to payment of a child’s college expenses.  Parents that are married cannot be made to contribute towards their child’s college expenses under any circumstances.  However, a judge can order parents that are divorced to contribute to these expenses.  In making such an award, a judge is given a great deal of discretion.  The judge is not required to order a parent to pay a certain amount of the expenses, nor is the judge required to award a certain percentage of the expenses.  The judge is to consider all relevant factors, including the earning capacity of the parents, the standard of living the child would have enjoyed had the marriage not been dissolved, the financial resources of the child, the child’s academic performance, and whether a college savings plan has been established for the child.  Once all of those factors are considered, the judge can order one, or both, parents to contribute to the child’s college expenses.

Unless the parents agree otherwise, they are each on the hook for college expenses up through the child’s 23rd birthday, and can be responsible through the child’s 25th birthday if there is good cause.  A judge can require either, or both, parents to provide funds for up to five college applications, the cost of two standardized college entrance exams, and the cost of one standardized college entrance exam preparatory course.

So What Constitutes “College Expenses” To Be Paid?

The expenses can be for any college, vocational, or professional school.  The types of expenses that may be awarded are also broader than one might think.  Illinois statute provides that the educational expenses may include tuition and fees, provided that they do not exceed the amount of in-state tuition and fees paid by a student at the University of Illinois for the same academic year; the cost of housing, whether on or off campus, provided the housing expenses do not exceed the cost for the same academic year of a double-occupancy room, with a standard meal plan, in a residence hall operated by the University of Illinois; the actual cost of the child’s medical expenses, including medical insurance and dental expenses; and the reasonable living expenses of the child during the academic year, and periods of recess, including food, utilities, and transportation costs if the child is living with one of the parents and attending a college educational program as a non-residential student.  The judge has further discretion to include things like automobile insurance and other expenses the child may incur during the time they are in college.

To Who And Where Does The Money Go?

The judge can order that money be paid to the other parent, to the child, or directly to the educational institution itself.  Each party and the child are required to sign consent forms so that a parent ordered to provide support can have access to the child’s academic transcripts, records, and grade reports.  The obligation to pay for college expenses terminates when the child fails to maintain a cumulative “C” grade point average, except in the event of illness or other good cause shown, attains the age of 23, receives a baccalaureate, or four-year, degree, or gets married.  The judge can still make provisions for college expenses if the child joins the armed forces, becomes incarcerated, or becomes pregnant, but such circumstances may affect the judge’s willingness to award such expenses.

The statute does not allow the child to file their own petition for such expenses.  The request for such an award must be brought by one of the parents, and can be modified upon a showing that there has been a change in circumstances.

The Illinois legislature has determined that divorced parents can be on the hook for college expenses and those expenses can include a great many types of expenses.  Divorced parents who have a child that is thinking of attending college should make sure to fill out the FAFSA form as soon as possible, and make sure the child applies for all scholarships and grants to which the child may be eligible, in order to lighten their own burden while the child attends college.

Divorce can be a difficult issue to handle, Here at Tapella Law we have experience in divorce law and it's many subtleties. If you need more information, reach out to us and find out how we can help.