Illinois courts can order parents to pay for children’s college in divorce

The state has a comprehensive and detailed statute on this subject.

Typically child support is a financial obligation that ends when the child reaches adulthood at 18 or graduates from high school. Illinois, however, allows the court to order that an ex-spouse pay certain expenses for college or a similar program.

The Illinois statute is quite comprehensive in what it covers as compared with similar provisions in other states. It is an important law that has received recent attention from lawmakers, as legislative amendments have taken effect four times from 2015 through 2017 (as of this April 2017 writing).

Part of marital agreement

When a couple divorces, whether either or both of them will have a legal duty to pay for college tuition can be negotiated or mediated as a term of a marital settlement agreement. The couple could structure this support creatively, but they would likely choose an arrangement like:

  • A trust to which funds are transferred as part of the divorce settlement or to which parents will make payments in the future
  • Contributions to a 529 educational savings account
  • Payments to be made when tuition and fees are later due or when related expenses are actually incurred
  • Or others

During negotiation, it is helpful to know what the law says because if the matter ends up in court because no agreement is reached, the judge will apply the statute in deciding whether the parents will have this obligation.

The Illinois statute

Some of the major provisions of the statute:

  • The court's decision is based on "equity," meaning fairness.
  • The duty to pay college expenses ends when the student turns 23, unless there is good cause to continue, but payments must end by the 25th birthday.
  • The duty to pay ends if the student drops below a C average (without good cause or illness), gets a baccalaureate degree or marries.
  • Appropriate schools are college, vocational, professional or other training.
  • A paying parent may see academic records, unless the child would be unsafe if the parent knows where the child is studying.
  • Appropriate expenses may include tuition, fees and housing (capped at those charged at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne), medical and dental, living expenses, transportation, and books and supplies.
  • And others

Related obligations

In a related matter, the judge can order the parents and child to timely complete the FAFSA and similar financial aid forms. Either parent could be ordered to pay for five or fewer college application fees, up to two college entrance examinations and an entrance exam preparation course.

Orders beyond divorce

Even if college tuition payment responsibility is not decided during divorce, a parent could file a petition with the court requesting it even after the divorce and even against the estate of a deceased parent. Later modification or termination of a tuition obligation can also be requested.

Legal advice

Anyone facing the issue of a child's college expenses in divorce or another scenario, whether asking the other parent to pay, contemplating how the expenses will be split or responding to such a request should seek immediate legal advice. Postsecondary education nowadays is so expensive that the resolution of this issue can have a major impact on financial well being and standard of living, even though the purpose of such payments is appropriate.

The attorneys of the Law Offices of Susan Parnell Wilson in Belleville, Illinois, represent clients in matters related to support of an adult child in his or her college education as well as in a wide range of other family law matters.