By Attorney Megan Gayer
In the state of Illinois, the topic of contributions to college expenses has become a subject of considerable debate and confusion. While some parents might assume that financial support responsibilities terminate as soon as their child reaches the age of 18, the reality in Illinois is often more complex. The state has unique laws and regulations in place that address the financial obligations of unmarried and divorced parents towards their child's higher education, which can extend beyond the age of majority.
These laws recognize the importance of higher education and seek to ensure that the burden of college expenses is shared equitably among parents and their children. Understanding the nuances of these laws is essential for parents navigating the responsibilities associated with financing their child's college education.
When should I file?
First, it is important to know when you should file a petition asking for contribution to college expenses. The statute states that, “[t]he establishment of an obligation to pay under this Section is retroactive only to the date of filing a petition” 750 ILCS 5/513(k). However, if you have a previous Marital Settlement Agreement or a Judgment that states that the parents will contribute to educational expenses, then you can get retroactive contribution to the dates of incurred expenses. If you don't have an agreement or that agreement is silent on educational expenses, you should file a petition prior to incurring any expenses.
How are costs split?
Illinois Courts look at “[t]he 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. (4) The child's academic performance.” 750 ILCS 5/513(j) in determining the obligation. Further, “Educational expenses may include, but shall not be limited to, the following: (1) except for good cause shown, the actual cost of the child's post-secondary expenses, including tuition and fees, provided that the cost for tuition and fees does not exceed the amount of in-state tuition and fees paid by a student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for the same academic year” 750 ILCS 5/513(d).
Are they any limits on the length of time the obligation will last?
Yes, as 750 ILCS 5/513(a) states, “Unless otherwise agreed to by the parties, all educational expenses which are the subject of a petition brought pursuant to this Section shall be incurred no later than the student's 23rd birthday, except for good cause shown, but in no event later than the child's 25th birthday”. Further, if a child marries or received a baccalaureate degree, contribution will end. In addition to that, if a child does not maintain a cumulative “C” point grade average, then the educational expenses contribution will terminate as well, so long as there is not good cause shown for the grades received (e.g., illness).
What constitutes “educational expenses”?
While there is not an all-encompassing list that accounts for all educational expenses, the following have been found to be included:
- Tuition and fees per academic year
- The cost of housing expenses, whether living on or off campus
- Meal plans/groceries
- Medical and dental costs
- Reasonable living costs outside of rent
- The costs of books and other supplies
- Car insurance
- Parking/public transport costs
What happens if I was never married to the parent of my child?
In Illinois, to collect for contribution to college expenses there must be a legal finding of parentage to have an obligation for college expenses. If there is a legal finding of parentage, then non-married parents have the same obligation as parents who are divorced do.
This article is not all encompassing, and every situation may have specific nuances that may affect your obligation to collect or pay contributions to college expenses. If you are a parent in Illinois that has a child that is considering post-secondary education and have questions regarding your potential obligation, we recommend reaching out to one of the domestic relations attorneys at CTM Legal Group. Their team of knowledgeable family law attorneys can provide the guidance and support you need.