Post-High School Expenses: College and Trade School Costs

Changes to the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (IMDMA) that took effect as of the beginning of 2016, dictate how college expenses for non-minor children are handled in a divorce or post-divorce proceeding when the parents cannot agree on who shall pay what percentage of these expenses. The Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act provides for both parents to contribute support toward their child’s post-high school education including, college expenses and trade school expenses. So, in Illinois, child support does not necessarily end just because a child is 18 and has graduated from high school. Susan represents both mothers and fathers in cases involving divorce, parentage and family law including those where college expenses are at issue.

Often, a child who is going to college has access to assets such as a college savings plan, an inheritance or earned income from high school part-time jobs and must also contribute to his or her college education. A college bound child should also apply for grants and scholarships and those monies will first be applied to tuition. In each case, whether mother, father, and/or child shall share the burden of college expenses is determined on the merits of its own facts. These college expenses can include:

  • Tuition;
  • Application fees;
  • Room and board;
  • Books;
  • School fees and registration;
  • Transportation costs;
  • Health insurance;
  • Medical costs;
  • Dental costs; and
  • Personal expenses.

The financial ability of each parent to contribute to these expenses is very important. If one parent makes a significantly higher income or has higher assets than the other, the court may order that parent to pay a greater amount (or all) of the college expenses. Under Illinois law, if a spouse has remarried, the stepparent’s income and assets may also be considered when making determinations about college expenses. Any parent who is contributing to college expenses is entitled access to the child’s school records.

In Illinois, a Judge has discretion in determining the extent and allocation of financial support that he or she deems fair and reasonable. In making this determination, a Judge must consider the following factors:

  • The financial resources of each parent;
  • The standard of living the child would have enjoyed has the parents’ not divorced;
  • The financial resources of the child;
  • The child’s academic performance; and
  • Any other factors the Court deems relevant.

College expenses are discussed in Section 513 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act. The revisions enacted in 2016, better define exactly what is expected of both parents and students in regard to these payments. These revisions include:

  • Terminating contributions to educational expenses when the child is age 23 unless there is “good cause” to continue up to the age 25 when contributions terminate regardless of the situation.
  • Including the cost of up to five (5) college applications, two standardized college entrance exams, and one standardized college entrance exam prep course.
  • Capping college expenses at what a University of Illinois education would cost.
  • Requiring a child to sign consents to allow a supporting parent to have access to the child’s academic records (unless there is a safety issue).

  • Allowing the support obligation to be terminated if the child’s grade point average falls below a “C” (without good cause), if the child completes a bachelor’s degree, or gets married.
  • Providing that a college savings plan (i.e. 529 plan) is a resource of the child to contribute to these expenses.
  • Directing the court to consider present and future financial resources of both parents when determining the contribution to college expenses.

In Illinois, the law provides that a parent’s payments toward college expenses can be Court ordered to be paid directly to the educational institution, to the child, or to the other parent. The Illinois statute also allows a trust or other account to be established for drawing funds toward payment of college expenses.

Illinois law also provides for contempt and enforcement proceedings in the event a parent is not complying with a non-minor support Order. If the Court finds that a parent’s non-compliance with a non-minor support Order was willful or without justification, the Court has the discretion to hold that parent in contempt and to enter sanctions against that parent.

In paternity and parentage cases, unmarried parents of children may also apply to the court for assistance with college expenses from the other parent.  College expenses are considered “child support”) and Section 801 of the Illinois Parentage Act provides for:

(a) Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, pending the outcome of a judicial determination of parentage, the court shall issue an order for child support upon motion by a party and a showing of clear and convincing evidence of parentage. In determining the amount of the child support award, the court shall use the guidelines and standards set forth in Sections 505 and 505.2 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act.

​The law addressing non-minor support has been recently evolving in Illinois in a way that affects the timing of when the issue of college expenses should be brought to the Court. If you are involved in issues over college expenses or you need help working out an arrangement for contribution to college expenses, Susan can help you assess your obligations and answer your questions. Susan can also assist in examining the facts of your case and advise you as to how a Judge is likely to rule on the issue of college expenses in your matter. If your divorce involves or involved children, making decisions as to how college expenses are to be handled is a very important part of the process. Susan will explain how college expenses are handled in divorce and parentage cases in Illinois and discuss your legal options.