Illinois is one of the few states that compels divorced parents to contribute to their children’s college or post-high school education. Yes, that’s right, even after your children emancipate and are done with high school, Illinois requires you to keep on giving. Contributions to college expenses are governed by section 513 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act and has been a thorn in the side of lawyers and divorced parents ever since.
How is this fair?
The short answer is: it’s not.
Your children are emancipated and legal adults, therefore you should have no financial obligation to them whatsoever. However, the Illinois legislature in its “infinite wisdom”, have seen fit to stick their hand into your pocket and keep taking. Every several years, someone appeals a case with an eye towards having this section of the statute declared unconstitutional. Spoiler alert: they always fail. So, we’re stuck with it in Illinois. Even though parents who stay married are under no obligation to contribute to their children’s college expenses, because you and your ex-spouse are divorced you must keep paying.
What does this really mean?
How does this whole contribution shake out in the end? Originally, courts treated this like a simple ratio. That meant if dad made 60% of the income and mom made 40%, dad would pay 60% of the college expenses and mom would pay 40%. This wound up being a disaster. Kids would go to college and, free of any financial responsibility for it, would party their way through five years of school without ever earning a degree. Thankfully the courts responded with a more nuanced approach. These days, courts will apportion the college expenses between all three parties, meaning both parents and the child. It’s not uncommon to see each party responsible for 1/3 of expenses, or other arrangements giving the kids skin in the game, such as a 50/25/25 split.
What this means in a practical sense is that, if you and your ex-spouse can’t agree on a division of the contributions, someone will file a motion with the court in order to have the court decide what the division of contribution should be. The court will require each of you to complete a financial affidavit and provide supporting documents, and will review the costs associated with the college, trade school, or professional training program the child will be attending. The court will then hear arguments from each side regarding how much they feel they should be ordered to contribute, and then it will make its decision.
This is a very common post decree issue. In fact, after modifications to child support, this may be the most common post decree issue litigated. However, this is also an area that has a number of exceptions, a lot of prior case law, and some recent changes to the statute which all make for a very delicate balance. There are few areas in the law that benefit more from having an experienced attorney than this area. The next post in the series will go into more detail on exactly what those exceptions and other details are.