Who Pays What?

Most states do not consider a new spouse's income when determining achild support obligation, under the theory that step-parents do not have a legal obligation to financially support their step-children. But courts often interpret Illinois law in a different manner, due in large part to a case from the Second District Court of Appeals in northern Illinois.

The Case

In In re Marriage of Drysch, a case that originated in Kane County, the court considered the division of college expenses pursuant to a reservation clause in a 1988 divorce. Since that time, Father had maintained basically the same standard of living and same income. His most recent tax return declared an annual income of roughly $80,000, part of which was attributable to his new wife. However, Mother had married a successful real estate broker with an annual income exceeding $620,000; he also paid his wife a $50,000 annual salary.

Furthermore, Father and his son were not at all close. Testimony indicated that they had not seen one another in at least three years following an altercation that resulted in a restraining order, and the son had legally changed his last name to that of his step-father.

Based on this evidence, the trial court ordered Father to pay 10 percent of the son's educational expenses, citing the income discrepancy between the two households and the estrangement between Father and son. In upholding the financial portion of the division, the appeals court relied on Section 513 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act. This provision states that, when apportioning college expenses, a court must consider:

  • Financial resources of both parents;
  • The standard of living the child would have had if the parents remained married; and
  • Financial resources of the child.

The court concluded that both Mother and her son had access to her new husband's considerable financial resources, and that the son's standard of living would have been considerably lower if Father and Mother had remained married. However, the court also declared that the trial judge's consideration of the relationship between Father and son was improper.

Broad Application

The court specifically held that “it is likely that both parties pool their resources with those of their second spouses, so that their assets and liabilities are substantially intertwined.” In other words, a new spouse's income may also be relevant when assessing a motion to modify child support based on increased income.

Judges have broad discretion to deviate from the child support guidelines, given specific fact patterns. For immediate assistance in this area, contact an experienced Naperville family law attorney today. Convenient payment plans are available.


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