Paying for College in Illinois

As the calendar turns to 2016, many students begin to give even more serious thought to their college educations. As a result, parents begin thinking about how to pay for these diplomas. Since child support in Illinois ends when children turn 18, at least for the most part, do non-custodial parents have any legal obligation to share the financial burden?

Most divorce decrees, child support decrees, and other such orders contain language from Section 513 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act. Subsection (b) is fairly straightforward: a non-custodial parent may be required to assist the student in completing a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, and pay for up to five college applications, two standardized tests, like the SAT, and one standardized test preparation course.

A preparation course can be several hundred dollars, but the other listed expenses are typically negligible. The remainder of this provision, which governs the payment of educational expenses, is considerably more detailed and potentially much costlier.

Division of Expenses

Most orders contain a reserve clause regarding Section 513, which states that these costs will be divided once they can be reasonably ascertained. A judge must apportion these expenses between the parents based on:

  • A determination of “educational expenses,”
  • Comparison of the parents' financial resources, and
  • Amount the student can contribute.

The law is in flux in all three of these areas, and recent updates to the statutes are set to take effect beginning in 2016.

Educational expenses generally means both school costs (e.g. tuition, books, and fees) and living expenses, and the student's choice is not necessarily the determining factor. A recent case suggests that economics plays a significant role. A student wanted to attend an out-of-state school at an annual cost of $34,000; the non-custodial father identified a similar in-state program for about $17,000 per year. The court sided with the father, as the mother and student were unable to prove that the out-of-state school was substantially better.

In terms of parental resources, step-parent income is typically not calculated for child support purposes. But, these resources may be a factor in dividing post-secondary costs, because the situation is much different.

Finally, what amount should the student be required to contribute? Should the student work while in school, and if so, for how many hours? Should the student borrow money, and if so, how much?

For help in answering these questions, and others like them, contact an experienced family law attorney in Naperville. We routinely represent individuals and families throughout Chicagoland.


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