Who Pays For College After a Divorce?

Teenagers don’t often get themselves into college — not really. The process of being accepted to, paying for, and finishing college often requires a team effort including the student and their parents.  

When the parents are divorced, this challenging situation is even more complicated. The biggest question ex-spouses face when their mutual child starts considering college is: “Who’s responsible for paying?” 

Just like every other expense related to their child’s health, education, and well-being, the law expects both parents to contribute financially. Illinois law instructs family court judges on the parameters used to decide how much and under what circumstances parents must pay. 

Paying for college after divorce: Who pays and how much? 

As children reach their junior and senior years of high school, they begin to consider and discuss whether to pursue higher education at a traditional four-year institution or other secondary schools.  

Most young people look to their parents for support and financial help. Divorced parents must decide how they can collaborate to fulfill their child’s educational goals. This can be especially difficult, as the parents no longer share expenses, and use their individual incomes to support themselves. 

Illinois law requires both divorced parents to contribute toward the cost of college for their mutual child, to an extent appropriate with their income, living situation, and retirement savings. The calculation is different in every situation, but family courts work to divide the responsibility between parents in an equitable way. 

In some cases, the ex-spouses anticipated the future issue of college tuition for their child and included the terms of payment in their divorce settlement agreement. The court expects the parents to abide by that agreement unless the circumstances have changed. 

It’s up to the child and their parents to decide what institution the family can afford, though Illinois law places a cap on what is financially required of each parent. The law uses the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as an upper limit, stating that parents are not required to pay tuition and fees exceeding those at the college during the same academic year. 

Students and parents can check a prospective college’s Net Price Calculator to get a reasonable estimate of their financial aid and ultimate bottom-line cost. 

Paying for college after divorce: Who is eligible? 

While divorced parents are legally required to help their children pay for college, this opportunity doesn’t last forever. Students past a certain age and those in some situations lose the ability to petition their divorced parents for financial assistance. 

Parents’ legal obligation to pay for college ends: 

  • when their child earns a bachelor’s degree.  
  • when the child reaches age 23, “except for good cause shown,” but under no circumstances later than age 25, Illinois law states.  
  • if their child legally marries. 

Parents are still legally required to pay if their child: 

  • starts college classes or secondary training while still in high school. 
  • becomes pregnant. 
  • enlists in the armed forces. 
  • becomes incarcerated. 

Paying for college after divorce: What’s included? 

Everyone knows that the experience of completing college requires more than tuition payments. Housing, food, fees, books, and supplies all top the list of expenses, and Illinois law requires divorced parents to contribute to these as well. 

To begin, students need money to even apply for college, and the law makes provisions for divorced parents to cover these expenses. A family court judge may require the parents to pay for the cost of up to:  

  • 5 college applications 
  • 2 standardized college entrance exams 
  • 1 standardized college entrance exam prep class 

Once their child enters college, divorced parents must share the cost of books, housing, and food. Again, Illinois law uses the cost of a standard meal plan and double-occupancy room in a residence hall at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as a top limit for the parents’ financial obligations. 

While their child attends college, divorced parents are also required to share the cost of their medical insurance and expenses and dental care. 

Payments for college tuition and other expenses can be made directly to the institution, from one ex-spouse to another or to the student. The money can also be placed in a financial trust set up and dedicated for the purposes of distributing higher education payments. 

Paying for college after divorce: Other requirements 

The law makes clear that divorced parents have specific obligations to provide financially for their child’s higher education. At the same time, the court can require certain things of the student who is attending college. 

The student looking to attend college may be required to apply for financial aid through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and other possible sources. Getting awarded scholarships and financial aid can greatly ease the financial burden placed on divorced parents. 

Courts hold students to a minimum academic standard while it requires parents to pay for college. If a child fails to maintain a cumulative C grade point average, Illinois law states that their parents are no longer legally compelled to provide financially for their education.  

Parents paying for college also are granted certain rights by Illinois law. Unless revealing the student’s location would put them in jeopardy, both parents have a legal right to know the name of the institution the child attends. 

Also, each ex-spouse paying for college is entitled to view their child’s academic transcripts for the time period during which they contributed. This rule does not apply to non-academic records. 

To learn more about who pays for college after divorce, or how you can take action against an ex-spouse who refuses to pay, please contact the legal professionals at Sterk Family Law Group. 

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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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