child's college expenses covered by child support

Does Illinois Child Support Include Child’s College Expenses?

In Illinois, child support can include paying a child’s college expenses as provided in Section 513 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act. Effective January 1, 2016, Section 513 is the child support law that is used to require the parents to contribute to their child’s college expenses. This college education expense law provides who is to contribute (mom, dad and/or child), how much each contributes, and for how long the contribution is necessary. The obligation terminates at age 23 unless there is good cause shown why it should continue, and then the termination date is 25 regardless of circumstances.

Contribution to Child’s College Expenses

Contribution to college expenses is different than child support in that each parent’s contribution to college is not determined by using guidelines or a formula. The court will consider the present and future financial resources of both parents in determining how much, if anything, they are each to contribute. Court’s will not order a parent to contribute to their child’s college if the court finds that a parent cannot afford to do so. When the court’s look at the financial resources of the parties they are not looking at just income they are looking at all financial resources and financial circumstances including if a parent has remarried the court could consider the assets of a second spouse and the expenses of a second family to determine a total picture of someone’s financial ability to pay. This is much different than child support where the income of the parents is a significant factor.

Type of Post-High School Education Covered

As of 2016, post-high school education covers:

  • college,
  • vocational school,
  • professional training, and
  • trade schools.

As long as the education is going to further the child’s ability to become self-sufficient and productive member of society, it may very well qualify.

Types of College Education Expenses Covered

In the 2016 amendment to the law, the legislature included payments for up to five college applications, two standardized entrance exams and a standardized college entrance exam preparation course, which prior to 2016, were not covered. The other college expense included under the law are tuition, fees, housing, meal plans, books, supplies medical expenses including insurance, and reasonable living expenses. If the child is going to be living at home with one or both of the parents while going to college, the court will look at the child’s living expenses such as food, utilities, and transportation and determine what portion of those expenses each parent will pay.

Conflicts Over Child’s Selected College

There has often been litigation over which school their son or daughter should attend. This decision is often centered around the cost of the different school options: a local community college or a four-year University or an in-state college versus an out-of-state college. These arguments are often predicated on the cost of each potential school their child could attend along with the different views, values and college associations held by each parent.

However, in our experience, the financial aspect of a child’s college education is generally the issue that is brought before the court. The 2016 amendment to the college expense was drafted to eliminate some of this disagreement by placing a cap on college costs based on the cost of the University of Illinois. The courts will look at the costs of tuition, fees, housing, and meal plans at the University of Illinois and use those costs as a benchmark for the maximum each parent may have to contribute. In addition, the court has the ability to order payments be made to the child, to the other parent or directly to the college.

Child’s Obligations Under the College Expense Law

The child also has requirements under Section 513. The child will have to sign all paperwork to allow a parent, ordered to contribute to college costs, access to their transcripts, records, and grade reports. This requirement is also new in 2016 and makes sense as prior to 2016 a parent could be ordered to contribute but had no access if their child did not consent. This allows a parent to monitor the grades and schedules of their child and make sure they are maintaining at least a “C” grade point average. If you are paying for college, you are going to want to know that your child is attending classes and making progress towards a degree.

Impact of a 529 Saving Plan on Child’s College Expenses

Under the law, any 529 savings plan has always been considered in determining the amount the parents and child must contribute. In addition, it is important to understand that no matter who has funded or provided the 529 plan of the child, that account is considered a recourse of the child, not of either parent. This law does not give the child a free ride, many court decisions have required the child to apply for financial aid and often be responsible for a small portion of the costs.

Child Cannot Sue a Parent for Contribution to College Expenses

A provision was added to the law in the amendments in 2016 that terminated a child’s ability to go to court on their own and sue their parents for payment of their college education. The law used to allow the children of divorced parents to do this but the ability for children to sue their parents has been removed by language that states: “The child is not a third-party beneficiary to the settlement agreement or judgment between the parties after trial and is not entitled to file a petition for contribution.” However, if one of the parents who would have had a right to file a petition for contribution on behalf of their child has passed away or is legally disabled, then the child would have the right to file a petition for contribution, the child of the party may file a petition for contribution.

Seek Legal Advice Before Your Child Plans to Attend College

You may have questions about the impact of Illinois’ contribution to college expenses law and how it pertains to your child. It is important to review your Marital Settlement Agreement and get a petition on file for college contribution prior to your child attending college as it may be the case where you can only obtain contribution to college expenses from the date you filed forward.

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 Illinois’ college expenses law and payment of your child’s college expenses.

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