Illinois is one of a minority of states that allows a parent, in a divorce or child support/parentage case, to seek a contribution to college expenses from the other parent for a child they share. Specifically, Section 513 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act covers this topic (750 ILCS 5/513).
Is contribution to college mandatory (like child support)?
No. In cases where the issue of contribution to college is in dispute, a court “may award sums of money out of the property and income of either or both parties or the estate of a deceased parent, as equity may require, for the educational expenses of any child of the parties.”
In evaluating whether a party has the ability to contribute to college, the court will review the following factors:
- The present and future financial resources of both parties to meet their needs, including, but not limited to, savings for retirement.
- The standard of living the child would have enjoyed had the marriage not been dissolved.
- The financial resources of the child.
- The child’s academic performance.
What “college expenses” are covered under section 513?
The court can order a parent to contribute to the following:
- Tuition and fees. However, the tuition and fees cannot exceed what it would cost an IL resident to attend University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
- Housing expenses, whether on-campus or off-campus, provided that the housing expenses do not exceed the cost for the same academic year of a double-occupancy student room, with a standard meal plan, in a residence hall operated by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
- Medical/Dental insurance premiums and expenses not covered by same.
- Books and necessary supplies.
- The reasonable living expenses of the child during the academic year and periods of recess. This includes a child living at home during college. Living expenses include, but are not limited to, food, transportation and utilities.
- The cost of up to 5 college applications, the cost of 2 standardized college entrance examinations, and the cost of one standardized college entrance examination preparatory course.
How do the financial resources of the child relate to this issue?
The child bears some of the responsibility for payment of their college expenses. A child’s contributions can be measured in what scholarships they receive as well as loans they incur. Additionally, any college accounts that have been created prior to a divorce being finalized will be considered the child’s contribution. The important fact is that college is not solely an obligation of the parents and the court should consider what the child can contribute these expenses.
What if the child needs additional years to finalize college or does not obtain good grades?
If the court needs to get involved in how much a parent will be required to contribute to college expenses, the child and parents will need to execute paperwork to allow both parents access to the child’s academic transcripts, records, and grade reports.
The jurisdiction of the court to order a contribution to college ends when the child: (1) fails to maintain a cumulative “C” grade point average, except in the event of illness or other good cause shown; (2) attains the age of 23; (3) receives a baccalaureate degree; (4) or marries.
What if the petition seeking contribution is filed after college starts?
Unless your divorce decree or support agreement specifically breaks down how college will be paid, a parent’s legal obligation when pursued by the other parent, begins when the Petition for Contribution is filed and brought before the court. Expenses incurred prior to that date are not subject to Petition for 513 Contribution.
Does my new spouse’s income have any relevance on the college contribution issue?
Your new spouse does not have any legal responsibility for your biological child and hence cannot be compelled to pay anything. However, your spouse’s income and contributions to household expenses is relevant for the court to determine what your overall ability is to contribute.
The issue of a parent’s responsibility to pay for college is often overlooked during a divorce or child support case. This is due to the fact that the child is young and college is too far off to know the cost and what the specific facts will be. As such, the issue is often reserved for when the child is college age. Unlike child support, the court needs to determine if a parent has the ability to contribute to these expenses and will consider a child’s contribution when breaking down the ultimate responsibility.