Contribution to College Expenses

Parents that have gone through a divorce proceeding and obtained a child support order should be aware that their financial support of that child does not necessarily end when the child turns 18. Child support in Illinois terminates when a child turns 18, or when the child graduates high school, whichever is later; however, a judge can order both parents to contribute to the child’s college expenses after the child turns 18 and graduates from high school. The recently amended Illinois college expense law applies to "non-minor children," or individuals over the age of 18, but unlike child support, the parents' contribution to college expenses is not calculated by a formula or guideline, but it is left to the discretion of the judge.

“Educational expenses” that the court can order both parents to contribute to include, but are not limited to: tuition and fees; housing (whether on-campus or off-campus); medical expenses (insurance and dental); reasonable living expenses; and books and other necessary supplies. There are different expenses to be considered if a child lives with his or her parents while going to school.

Along with educational expenses, the court may require both parents and the child to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and other financial aid forms. The court may also require both parents to pay for the cost of up to 5 college applications, the cost of 2 standardized college entrance examinations, and the cost of one standardized college entrance examination preparatory course.

A judge will consider certain factors set out in the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act to determine how much each parents must contribute, which include: (1) the present and future financial resources of both parties to meet their needs, including, but not limited to, savings for retirement; (2) the standard of living the child would have enjoyed had the marriage not been dissolved; (3) the financial resources of the child; and (4) the child's academic performance.

Nevertheless, parents will only be required to contribute to college expenses prior to the child’s 23rd birthday, and can continue after that date if the parties agree or for good cause shown; however, parents will not be responsible for expenses incurred after the child’s 25th birthday. It is important to note that in Illinois, the educational expenses a the parents contribute to cannot exceed what a student would pay at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for the same academic school year.

Any child attending college should note that their financial support from their parents through college is not guaranteed. The parents’ obligation to pay college expenses can terminate if the child fails to maintain a cumulative “C” grade point average, the completion of a bachelor’s degree, or marriage.

As more jobs these days are requiring a college education, it is important to know your post-divorce obligations as a parent to provide for your child’s future. Please discuss any questions you have about college expenses for your child with your attorney.

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