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.

Illinois Divorce Law Won’t Look the Same Come 2016

This summer, Gov. Bruce Rauner put his signature on SB 57 (now Public Act 099-0090). This law modifies a number of sections of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act as well as other related statutes. The changes are effective as of January 1, 2016.

No One Ever is To Blame

One of the biggest changes is the elimination of all grounds for divorce other than “irreconcilable differences.”

As the law stands now, you can file for divorce alleging any number of grounds (such as adultery, physical cruelty, or mental cruelty) or you can simply assert that there are “irreconcilable differences” between you and your spouse, which is the legal term for “this just isn’t working out.”

However, if you filed on that latter “no-fault” basis, you would either have to live separate and apart for two years before you could seek a divorce or agree to a waiver, which would still require a six-month wait.

Under the revised law, the only basis for filing for divorce is “irreconcilable differences” and, if both parties agree, they can proceed with a divorce immediately (if they don’t agree, there is still a six month living separately requirement).

Allocation of “Parental Responsibilities” and “Parenting Time”

Current law about where children reside and how much time they spend with each parent is framed in terms of “custody” and “visitation.” The revised law throws those ideas out the window, drilling down to and specifically allocating all of the individual “parental responsibilities” involved in raising a child as well as allocating “parenting time.”

As has always been the case, “the best interests of the child” is the North Star on which all decisions relating to kids are made. In the new framework, the parties can either reach agreement on a “parenting plan” or the court “shall allocate to one or both of the parents the significant decision-making responsibility for each significant issue affecting the child.” Section 602.5(b). These “significant issues” include:

  • Health
  • Education
  • Religion
  • Extracurricular activities

As to allocation of “parenting time,” the court will look at many of the same factors it currently does in making “custody” determinations, including:

  • the amount of time each parent spent performing caretaking functions in the previous two years
  • any prior agreement or course of conduct between the parents relating to caretaking functions with respect to the child
  • the child’s needs
  • the distance between the parents’ residences, the cost and difficulty of transporting the child, each parent’s and the child’s daily schedules, and the ability of the parents to cooperate in the arrangement
  • the willingness and ability of each parent to place the needs of the child ahead of his or her own needs

Relocation Restrictions

Parental relocation is often a sticky issue. Currently, a parent with residential custody can move anywhere within Illinois. Under the new law, some moves require notice to the other parent and ultimately approval by the court if the non-moving parent objects. Specifically, notice and/or approval is required if:

  • a parent with residential custody residing in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, and Will counties is seeking to move more than 25 miles from their current residence
  • a parent in any other Illinois county is seeking to move more than 50 miles from their current residence

Additionally, a parent with residential custody can move up to 25 miles away without agreement or approval even if the new residence is across the Illinois state line.

Call Me If You Have Questions

There are many other changes to Illinois divorce law that are part of this overhaul as well. If you are considering a divorce and have questions about how these changes to the law may impact your decision-making, please give me a call at (312) 236-2433 or fill out my online form to arrange for a consultation.


Your Choice of a Lawyer Matters. Here are Four Qualities to Look For.

I meet with new clients and potential new clients on an almost daily basis. When I do, I know that the reason they are in my office is because they have important issues that need to be addressed; issues that can have a profound impact on their career, family, and future.

I also know that the decision as to which attorney they hire to assist them is one that they don’t, and shouldn’t, take lightly. There is no question that the quality and competence of an attorney can play a significant role in the outcome of a given matter, and how that attorney approaches his practice and relationship with clients can make the difference between peace of mind and constant worry.

Based on my experience, here are some qualities you should consider if you are in the process of looking for an attorney:

  • Knowledge of the Law. It goes without saying that your lawyer should know what he’s doing, and that includes keeping up to date on new developments and approaches. The law is constantly changing; new legislation, court decisions, rules, and guidelines come out all the time. It is crucial to hire a lawyer who not only understands the law as it is but who is aware and alert to the impact of changes which may take place.
  • Experience. So much of what happens in a legal matter is not based on things that can be found in books; knowing the nuances of both the law and the reality of practice is crucial to obtaining successful results. Look for a lawyer who knows their way around the courthouse, hearing room, or conference room. Look for a layer who knows how things work, and knows how things get done. Sound judgment and insight isn’t learned at a seminar. That is something that only comes from years of experience.
  • Communication. You no doubt have many questions about your situation, what may happen next, and what the plan should be going forward. Throughout your case, you’ll want to know that when questions and concerns come up, your attorney will be there, available and ready to answer and resolve them. You also want a lawyer who will actually listen to you and who will take the time to understand your needs and goals.
  • Empathy and Trust. When you meet with a lawyer, you are not there necessarily to discuss a case or a file; you are talking about your life. You want an understanding and compassionate lawyer who you can speak to about your concerns and issues and you want to feel as if they truly care and understand what is at stake. Choose an attorney who makes you comfortable, who is trustworthy and ethical, who you feel will truly expend all necessary efforts on your behalf, and who gives you a feeling of peace of mind every time you leave his office or hang up the phone after speaking with him or her.

The attorney-client relationship is a unique and important one, and the trust you place in your lawyer is something he or she should value and work every day to earn.