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Illinois Law and a Child's College Expenses: Who Pays?

on in Child Support

college expenses, St. Charles divorce attorneysAs graduation draws increasingly closer, high school seniors around the country and throughout Illinois are starting to make serious plans for continuing their education. With the average cost of many colleges—including public state universities—exceeding $20,000 per year, a large number of students turn to their parent for help. Most parents, of course, are more than willing to assist their child with college expenses if they are able to do so, but the situation can become extremely complicated if the child’s parents are divorced.

Non-Minor Child Support

When a child comes to his or her parents asking for help paying for college, the decision is left entirely up to the parents. In many cases, parents decided on whether or not to provide assistance for college expenses—or assume the entire cost—long before their child ever reached high school. This decision is particularly important for divorced parents, as such issues are often addressed in a divorce settlement agreement. If the divorce judgment acknowledges that educational costs should be split between the parents but does not expressly delineate each parent's responsibility, or does not address college expenses whatsoever, either parent may file a petition with the court asking the other parent to contribute to such expenses.

Student Cannot File

Recent changes to the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act clarified that the child/student is not permitted to file a petition asking his or her parents for help with college expenses. Instead, the law is intended to allow the court to rule on financial issues between the parents. If one parent has taken on responsibility for helping the child pay for school, that parent may seek help from the other parent. The child, however, cannot attempt to use the court to force his or her parents to finance his or her post-high school education.

The law does make a single exception: if a parent with standing to file such a petition dies or becomes disabled and unable to file, the child may initiate the proceedings. The child would be acting on behalf of the parent.

Application Fees and Test Expenses

Regardless of whether the court orders shared responsibility for tuition, room and board, and other school-related costs, one or both parents may be ordered to assist with preliminary expenses. Based upon the circumstances of the family, the court may require either or both parties to cover the costs of up to five college applications, two standardized college entrance exams, and one standardized exam prep course. To facilitate any and all available financial aid, the court may also order the parties and the child to complete and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and other financial aid paperwork.

In an upcoming post, we will talk more about the factors that the court must consider in determining if a parent will be ordered to contribute and what constitutes eligible college expenses.

Call Our Office Today

To learn more about your options in getting help with paying for your child’s post-high school education, contact an experienced Kane County family law attorney. Call 630-377-7770 to schedule your free initial consultation at Bochte, Kuzniar & Navigato, P.C., today.


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