How Do Divorced Parents Pay For Their Child’s College?

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Planning For Divorce

Whether your child is a senior getting ready to leave high school and start thinking of future plans, a Junior in the process of choosing a school, or a toddler who’s future abilities are yet to be realized, it is important to plan ahead for you and your child’s future. This is especially true if you have an ex-spouse or are in the process of going through a divorce. Illinois gives perks to children of divorce or parentage action. If a parent is married and decides they are not going to pay for college, it is not a problem. However, the same is not true for children of divorce or parentage action. As a result, it is important that you as a parent understand your obligations under Illinois law.

Some questions to consider include: What are your rights and obligations concerning your child’s college expenses? What planning steps should you take and when? The following information is designed to give you a basic understanding of the legal landscape to help you navigate the process of paying for your child’s college while divorce or going through a divorce. This will be the first of three blog posts to introduce this issue.

College Tuition: The Legal Framework

Post-high school education expenses are governed by two things: legal statute and the parents’ judgment for dissolution of marriage. The latter is usually in the property settlement or marriage settlement agreement incorporated into the judgment where the case is resolved by settlement.

Divorced Spouses College Tuition Obligations: The Statute

Section 513 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (IMDMA) governs where the Judgment is totally silent or does not address a particular issue. It also applies to parties not-yet-divorced who need a temporary order until the divorce is final. Section 513(a)(2) provides that a court may enter an order addressing the who, what, when, where, and how of a child’s educational expenses. Under Section 513(b), a court determining the allocation of expenses shall consider all relevant and reasonable factors, including but not limited to four specific factors:

(1) the financial resources of both parents;
(2) the financial resources of the child;
(3) the standard of living the child would have enjoyed had the marriage not been dissolved; and
(4) the child’s academic performance (e.g. the child must show a capacity for college and keep his or her grades up).

Understanding The Statute

Essentially a court looks at what expenses are at issue, determines which expenses are eligible for allocation, examines what the individual parents and the child each bring to the table in available resources, and then allocates the expenses between them accordingly. Unless a Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage provides otherwise, courts apply the above statutory analysis to interpret the Judgment terms were vague and to fill in the holes where the Judgment is silent.

How the Parties’ Settlement Works

Parties may “contract” around the strict application of Section 513 in their settlement agreement for nearly anything as long as those terms do not violate public policy. Common matters addressed in settlement agreements include giving a specific list of what expenses are allocated, limiting contribution to college versus trade school, and designating certain assets to be applied or requiring the child to apply for financial aid before setting the parent’s contributions.

Visit our Blog for more information about navigating the legal framework of college expenses.  Should you have questions regarding college issues, we urge you to contact our office to schedule a free consultation.


This is a legal advertisement from Sterk Family Law Group. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be construed as such. This article is for informational and educational purposes only.

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