A Crash Course in College Costs Under Illinois’ New Divorce Law: What Parents Need to Know

High school seniors in Illinois and across the country are anxiously awaiting the delivery of college acceptance (or rejection letters). At the same time, their parents are anxiously trying to figure out how they’re going to pay the astronomical costs of tuition and related expenses.

For divorced parents, however, this anxiety can be compounded with uncertainty or conflict about who if anyone has to pay for their child’s college costs and what the extent of those obligations are.

The sweeping changes to Illinois divorce law that became effective on January 1st include extensive and detailed provisions that attempt to bring clarity to college expense obligations in the event that the parties can’t otherwise agree. Here’s what you need to know if college is in your child’s future:

“Educational Expenses” Defined

As was the case under the old version of Illinois’ divorce law, either parent can petition the court to require the other parent to contribute to “educational expenses,” both before and after a child becomes a legal adult.

Section 513(d) of the revised Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act defines what are and are not “educational expenses” that a parent can be obligated to pay. Importantly, the extent of many of the obligations are pegged to the costs incurred for attending the University of Illinois, though the child can attend college anywhere.

“Education expenses” include:

  • 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 tuition and fees paid by a student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for the same academic year;
  • the actual costs of the child’s housing expenses, whether on-campus or off-campus, provided that the housing expenses do not exceed the cost for the same academic year of a double-occupancy student room, with a standard meal plan, in a residence hall operated by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign;
  • the actual costs of the child’s medical expenses, including medical insurance, and dental expenses;
  • the reasonable living expenses of the child during the academic year and periods of recess under certain circumstances; and
  • the cost of books and other supplies necessary to attend college.

College Doesn’t Last Forever

Under Section 513(a) of the new law, any contributions sought in a petition must be for expenses “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” unless otherwise agreed to by the parties. If your 35-year-old daughter wants to go back to school to get her MBA, she is on her own.

A child is also on their own if they don’t keep their grades up. Any previously ordered obligation to pay for college costs terminates if the child fails to maintain a cumulative “C” grade point average, except in the event of illness or other good cause shown. Payment obligations also terminate when the student receives a baccalaureate degree or marries.

Financial Aid

Section 513(b) provides that a court may require both parties and the child to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and other financial aid forms and to submit any form of that type prior to the designated submission deadline for the form.

Admissions Tests and Applications

College costs money well before your student sets foot on campus. Even if the court doesn’t order any other contributions, Section 513(b) provides that the court can require either or both parties to provide funds for the child so as 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.

Too often, parents delay filing a petition for college expenses until the bill for tuition and fees is upon them. If you wait until your child is packing up for the first day of school, you could get stuck with the bill for the first semester.

If you have questions or concerns regarding your child’s college costs after a divorce, please give me a call at (312) 236-2433 or fill out my online form to arrange for a consultation.