Who Should Pay for U? – College Costs After Divorce

Overjoyed or crushed? For high school seniors across the country at this time of year, acceptance or rejection letters from the colleges they wish to attend are determining which of those emotions they feel upon opening their mail. For parents of those seniors, the pride they feel about their child’s acceptance is likely accompanied by confusion and anxiety about the financial aid process and how they will help pay for four (or more) years of tuition that seems to increase at an exponential rate every year.

For divorced parents, a child heading off to college also means the end of child support and with it the question of who is going to foot the bill for their child’s college expenses. In Illinois, college costs are referred to as “post-majority expenses” and the question of who pays them depends on several factors.

Look to Your Judgment of Dissolution First

First, check your judgment of dissolution. If your marital settlement agreement, which divided all your property and set forth provisions regarding child custody and support, addressed post-majority expenses, they will be incorporated into the court’s final judgment. Illinois law gives family law courts the right to require one or both parents to pay a child’s higher education costs, even after the child graduates high school and turns 18.

The Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act

If your marital settlement agreement says nothing about college costs, and the judgment of dissolution is also silent on the issue, all hope is not lost. In Illinois, either parent can petition the court for college expenses, both before and after a child becomes a legal adult. More importantly, it doesn’t matter if your marital settlement agreement or final divorce decree failed to address the issue of post-majority expenses.

Section 513 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act allows both moms and dads to ask the court to order the other parent to contribute to “the educational expenses of the child or children of the parties, whether of minor or majority age.” Such an application for educational expenses “may be made before or after the child has attained majority” and any order for the payment of college expenses terminates when the child receives a baccalaureate degree,” so no order will include the costs of graduate school.

In the majority of cases, the parent with the higher income is required to pay a larger percentage of the expenses, although courts occasionally order the child to kick in a portion of the bill.

Act Quickly to Receive the Support You Need

Too often, parents delay filing a petition for post-majority expenses until college fees are 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.