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College Expenses for Divorced Parents

on in Child Support

college, Kane County family law attorneysWhile it is not the law in every state, in Illinois, a divorced parent in Illinois can be made to contribute to their child’s college expenses. The state of Illinois has a vested interest in ensuring its citizens have every opportunity to obtain an education. However, for parents who are unaware of this possibility, it can come as a nasty surprise. It is always best to educate yourself beforehand, if at all possible.

What Does The Law Say?

The relevant statute is contained in the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act. The law states that a court generally has discretion to order “sums of money” from the “property and income of either or both” parents or the estate of a deceased parent (if appropriate) to go toward undergraduate educational expenses for any “child of the parties.” Educational expenses does not mean just tuition, but may also cover textbooks, room and board, transportation costs, or any other relevant expenditure. Such assistance will end when the child graduates or turns 23, though there have been exceptions for late starts. In no case will the court approve payments beyond the age of 25.

It is important to realize that the law requires the court to use the educational costs of an average student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as a baseline for college expense support. The court, however, may consider higher costs, but only if good cause is shown.

Act Fast to Obtain Support

The terms of your divorce decree must first be examined to determine if they address the issue of college expenses. If your divorce decree explicitly discusses the division of college expenses, you may be able to argue that the other parent can be held responsible for expenses retroactively to when your child began attending college. If your divorce decree reserves discussion of such issues, however, you cannot enforce the college expenses provision retroactively; you must start a new claim and thus will only be able to seek help for expenses going forward.

This is well illustrated in Petersen v. Petersen (2011), where a wife attempted to enforce the college expenses provision against her husband, arguing that since their judgment had reserved discussion of college payments, that she could obtain payment for their eldest son’s college expenses after he graduated. The husband’s argument was that since the issue had been reserved, no contract had been created, which meant that the wife could only claim college expenses from the date of her filing forward. The court sided with the husband, effectively setting a precedent for the future. If your children have not yet begun to attend college, check your divorce decree and see how—if at all—the issue is resolved.

Enlist Experienced Legal Help

College is an expensive proposition, but education is the key to a bright future for any child. However, if you are ordered to contribute to your children’s college expenses, it must not be for more than you can afford. To learn more about child support laws in Illinois, contact a knowledgeable Kane County family law attorney at Bochte, Kuzniar & Navigato, P.C. today. We can help guide you to an agreement that works for all parties. Contact us to set up an initial appointment.


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