contribution to college expenses

Frequently Asked Questions About Contributions to College Expenses

When parents split up or divorce, child support orders are certain, however, many questions may remain regarding the financial contributions to college expenses. Below we discuss the most frequently asked questions we hear from parents about contributing to college expenses.

Is Payment of College Expenses Part of a Child Support Order?

If you are party to a child support order, you may be wondering if there is any provision for college expenses once your child reaches the age of 18 or graduates from high school.  The answer is not clear-cut for all individuals and may depend upon various factors.

Typically, child support in Illinois stops when your child turns 18 years of age, or upon graduation from high school, whichever comes later.  Support will end altogether at age 19 even if the child is still in high school.

Once child support ends, it is important to start your case for contribution to college expenses immediately.  Do not procrastinate as it is difficult, if not impossible, to get retroactive relief from the other parent if college expense contributions are not already established.  

If your high school graduate is planning to attend college, addressing your support order for contribution to his or her college expenses should be done when filling out college applications.  

What are College Expenses Under Illinois Law?

In Illinois Section 513 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, (IMDMA), allows for a parent to petition the noncustodial parent for contributions to college education expense for their non-minor child.  College expenses include tuition, room and board, fees, books and even travel to and from college. Child support is shifted to and may be continued under the “college expenses” law which applies to non-minor children over the age of 18.  

If your divorce decree is not clear on establishing support for college expenses, you may petition the court to obtain an order for future expenses. And while you may win an order for future expenses, the court will not order payment on retroactive expenses, making it imperative that you do not delay in filing your case.   

Does the College Expenses Provision Apply to Parents That Were Never Married?

If you do not have a divorce decree because you were never married, you might wonder if the other spouse will be obligated to pay college expenses for your non-minor child.  Child support for non-married parents is detailed in Sec. 801 of the Illinois Parentage Act, which does not mention or address college expenses. It was not included because in the Illinois Appellate Court case of Rawles v. Hartman, appellate judges decided that what is good for children of divorced parents is good for children of parents that were never married.  

This gives broad discretion to the court when reading the two acts together to determine any award of child support including college education expenses.  Where two acts are construed together with one omitting provisions the other contains, the omitted provision will be applied under the act without such provision.  It is consistent for the court to apply section 513 of the Dissolution Act to allow for education expenses of a non-minor child to treat all children equally regarding matters of support.  The court cannot discriminate against children born out of wedlock, as this would be unjust and illogical for the State to deny such an essential right.

If your child is preparing to go to college and there is no order for college expenses in a child support order issued under The Parentage Act, it is imperative that you work with an experienced family law attorney to file a petition immediately as no retroactive support will be granted, but future college expenses can be awarded to the other parent.

What it Means if College Expenses are Reserved in the Dissolution

If the college expenses obligation is noted as reserved in your divorce, this means that the issue was not decided at the time of the Dissolution of Marriage.  If this is noted in your Dissolution, it is important to file a petition to the court immediately as an award for college expenses will not be retroactive.  

If your Dissolution of Marriage Judgment does not address any reservation for college expenses the court has the authority to enforce each party to contribute.

Support Orders and Seeking Contribution to College Expenses

If you are seeking contributions from the other parent for your child’s college expenses, it is important to be aware of the recent DuPage County case Yakich v. Auld. In that case, the judge held that requiring divorced or never-married parents to contribute to a child’s college expenses to be unconstitutional.  Yakich v. Auld is now on direct appeal with the Illinois Supreme Court which may result in significant changes to orders to pay a child’s college expenses.  

Changes occur in family law all of the time so it is imperative to work with an experienced attorney who knows and understands the law. Anderson & Boback help you to evaluate all areas of your child support order, whether through the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act or the Parentage Act, and advocate for you and your children.  We help parents understand their rights and obligations and help to provide fair and equal treatment to all children party to a support order.

Anderson & Boback are dedicated to helping you make the best decisions by explaining all your options and taking the necessary action to protect you and your child’s interests.  Contact us today for a confidential consultation to learn more about your rights under the Illinois college expense law.

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