In Illinois, divorcing parents are not usually responsible for the financial support of a child after the child turns 18 or graduates from high school, whichever occurs last. However, there are two major exceptions to this rule:
First, parents may be ordered to pay child support for a non-minor child who is disabled (750 ILCS 5/513.5. Second, Parents may be ordered to pay a non-minor child’s Educational Expenses (750 ILCS 5/513).
Generally, a parent’s obligation to provide child support ends when the obligation to provide Educational Expenses begins. “Educational Expenses” are defined as including tuition, room and board, book fees, registration, application fees, and other university costs. The definition has also been expanded to include contribution to the non-minor child’s living expenses while at school, their transportation costs, health costs, including insurance premiums for medical, dental, and vision, as well as any other expense the Court finds to be reasonable, within its discretion.
The Court has discretion in determining the extent and allocation of financial contribution of the parent to the non-minor child’s college costs. The Court must find the costs to be “fair and reasonable” after considering the following factors:
The financial resources of both parents. The standard of living the child would’ve enjoyed had the parents NOT divorced. The financial resources of the child. The child’s academic performance. Any other factor the Court deems relevant.
The statute does provide certain limitations on a parent’s obligation to contribute to Educational Expenses for the non-minor child. The 2016 amendment to the statute limited the cost to instate tuition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Nonetheless, the Court can deviate from the cost limitation if it finds that a parent has shown a “good cause.” Limitations include terminating a parent’s obligation in the event the non-minor child is no longer enrolled as a full-time student, or is not in good standing with the school. This happens when the non-minor child’s G.P.A. falls below a C average, The parent should be given access to the non-minor child’s academic records.
This is a unique aspect of Illinois divorce law as it imposes a financial obligation on divorcing parents that does not exist on parents who do not get divorced. While the constitutionality of this differentiation has been challenged on numerous fronts, the Court has consistently held that the obligation is consistent with the expanded role of the Court in the lives of divorced families to enforce the obligations that parents in an “intact” family would likely perform jointly.
Remember that if you are considering divorce, are in the process of becoming divorced, or you have already obtained a divorce, you might be entitled to obtain financial support for your college-bound children.
Michone Riewer is an Advisory Board Member for the American Academy of Certified Financial Litigators. 847.234.4445, strategicdivorce.com.