Securing Your Child’s Future: Managing College Expenses After Divorce in Illinois

It’s no secret that the cost of college tuition is on the rise. As a parent, you may have started a college savings fund early or  you are looking into your options now. However, if you are divorced and living in Illinois, you may be required to contribute to your child’s post-secondary education. Our team at Sterk Family Law is here to help you understand your responsibility for your child’s future education as a divorced parent.  These contributions also apply in parentage cases. 

Who Pays for a Child’s College Tuition?

Parents want the best for their children, including their education beyond high school. However, college and other education costs can be very expensive. Whether you can afford to contribute to your child’s tuition may not be up to you. According to section 513 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (750 ILCS 5/513), you may be required to contribute. This act explains that divorced parents may be required to assist in providing for their child’s educational expenses, including those at the college level. This provision outlines how courts can enforce, modify, or terminate these obligations and includes considerations such as the financial resources of both parents, the standard of living the child would have enjoyed had the marriage not been dissolved, and the child’s academic performance.

The Role of the Divorce Decree

A well-drafted divorce decree should clearly outline provisions for the division of college expenses, including tuition, room and board, books, and other educational fees. To avoid future conflicts, these agreements can be specific, detailing the proportion of costs each parent will bear, the type of college expenses covered, and the maximum amount each parent is responsible for contributing.  However, often the issue is reserved until the time the child is about to commence college and a motion must be filed with the Court to set the terms of the obligation of both parties. 


Strategically Planning Ahead

When initiating the divorce process, it is important to discuss and plan for the children’s educational expenses as early as possible, ideally as part of the negotiations. This forward-looking approach minimizes misunderstandings and provides a clearer financial picture to help budget future expenses. Tools like education savings accounts or trusts can also be set up to ensure funds are allocated specifically for education costs.  In the event a 529 account or another college savings plan was established by the parents prior to dissolution of marriage, same is considered as a resource of the child but any fund established after the divorce will be deemed a contribution from the party who contributed to such an account.


Considerations for Non-Tuition Costs

College costs extend beyond tuition. It is important to plan for housing accommodations, transportation, books, supplies, and personal expenses as these can add a hefty burden to the overall costs. These items should also be considered and factored into any agreement on contribution to college expenses to ensure all potential costs are covered. 


Modifying Agreements

Circumstances change, and the initial agreements regarding college expenses might need adjustments. Either parent can request a modification of the agreement if there are significant changes in financial circumstances, the cost of education, or the child’s educational path. However, modifications require legal intervention and should be handled by an experienced attorney to ensure the process adheres to legal standards and the child’s best interests are maintained.


Caps on Contributions

Because costs of a college education vary greatly, Illinois has placed a cap on the contribution of the parents.  With limited exceptions, the cost of the child’s college expenses, including tuition, fees, room and board, and the like, shall not exceed the amount of in-state costs paid by the student at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.  Further, the obligation shall be incurred by a parent until the child’s 23th birthday, except for good cause shown in which case the obligation shall terminate when the student reaches the age of 25. 


Working with Legal Professionals

Understanding your responsibility with college expenses in a divorce requires careful planning. At Sterk Family Law, our family law professionals are dedicated to helping clients create comprehensive educational support agreements that serve the best interests of both the children and the parents. We help ensure that your children’s academic futures are secure, no matter the changes in your family dynamics.


Divorce introduces many uncertainties, but your child’s education need not be one of them. Addressing college expenses directly and comprehensively in your divorce proceedings can help provide a stable foundation for your child’s future. Remember, a proactive approach and the guidance of experienced legal professionals can make all the difference in ensuring educational goals are met and financial burdens are fairly shared.


Contact Sterk Family Law today for more guidance on handling college expenses during a divorce.


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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