In part one of this article I gave you a brief overview of section 513 of the Illinois Marriage and dissolution of Marriage Act, which deals with contribution to your child’s college expenses. In this part two, I will delve deeper into what some of the details and exceptions are to the general rule. Let’s start with the most common question regarding section 513.
What exactly do I have to pay for? The statute gives us some pretty good guidance on this point. First, your child has to go to college, vocational school, or professional training of some sort. Courts have generally held this to mean things like college, cosmetology school, union training, or some sort of technical certification. If your child goes to college, this generally means things like: tuition, fees, room and board, medical expenses, books and supplies necessary for college, and on some occasions, reasonable transportation. Does this mean things like a laptop and a whole new wardrobe? Not necessarily. This is not meant to be a windfall to the child and should not be an excuse for the child to upgrade their two-year-old computer equipment. That being said, there are certain majors in certain universities that do require incoming students to have a laptop with certain specifications. Look at the acceptance paperwork very closely to see what is and is not required of your child. Does this mean things like fraternity or sorority dues? Again, not necessarily. If your child decides to pledge a fraternity or sorority, there are certain things that you may or may not be responsible for. For instance, they will undoubtedly have a meal plan or rent to pay at the fraternity or sorority house. Obviously, your child needs to live somewhere and eat, but how does the meal plan cost and the expenses to live in the house compared to the regular room and board at the college? You may only be on the hook for what the regular room and board would be. You absolutely should not be responsible for any expenses related to that fraternity or sorority above that. The point of this not to finance your adult child’s social life. Another issue that frequently comes up is studying abroad. If a semester abroad is required for your child’s major then you will probably be on the hook for part of the expense. However, if this is simply something your child signed up for in order to enjoy the summer in Greece, or to backpack their way through Spain, then they should be the only ones paying for this “stealth vacation.”
Sometimes children will continue to live with a parent for several years of college, particularly if they are initially going to a community college. Under these circumstances, the court has the authority to order you to continue to pay child support to that parent in order to offset the cost of housing and feeding the child. Most often, this is not a big issue simply because the cost of a community college is so low. However, on occasion the child will live at home but attend a private or state school, at which point the court often has to step in and decide what’s fair for each side to contribute, considering one parent is providing the housing and most of the food. In the next part of this article, I’ll address the second most pressing question in this area: How am I supposed to pay for this?