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Does Illinois Require Divorced Parents to Pay for College?

Posted on in Divorce

Naperville child support attorney

Child support obligations do not always end when a minor turns 18. In Illinois, the law also provides for non-minor support obligations. Specifically, a parent may be required to make certain “contributions” toward their adult child’s college expenses. Section 513 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution Act authorizes a judge to make such orders. Unless the parents agree otherwise, the court will not order parents to support their child’s education past their 23rd birthday. (In exceptional circumstances, this may be extended to the child’s 25th birthday.) In this context, educational expenses include not only tuition but also housing, medical, and other “reasonable” living expenses. That said, a parent is not obligated to pay the full cost of an out-of-state private school. Illinois law caps a parent’s total obligations based on the current in-state tuition and room and board rates used by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Contributions to College Savings Plans Do Not Reduce Obligations 

A recent decision from the Illinois Second District Appellate Court, In re Marriage of Wilhelmsen, illustrates how Section 513 of the IMDMA can be applied in practice. This case involved the parents of three children. The parents divorced in 2013. At the time of divorce, the parents entered into a marital settlement agreement (MSA), which was approved by the court as part of the final decree. Under the MSA, both parents agreed to share their children’s college expenses under Section 513. Separately, the father agreed that he would pay approximately $79,000 in back-owed support to all three children’s college savings (Section 529) plans.

The father later tried to argue that this back support should be deducted from the amount he was required to pay under Section 513. The Appellate Court disagreed. First, the court noted that the MSA itself contained no such provision. Second, Section 513 itself did not require the court to credit any contributions to the 529 plans–which were for all three children–toward the Section 513 college expenses of any specific child. Indeed, such an interpretation would effectively “frustrate the [Illinois] legislature’s plain intent that former spouses ought to equitably provide for the educational expenses of their nonminor children.”

A Controversial Issue

Section 513 has proven controversial in recent years. Last October, the Illinois Supreme Court overturned a judge’s ruling holding the law unconstitutional. The lower court believed the law violated the “equal protection” rights of unmarried parents, as married parents have no legal obligation to pay for their adult children’s college expenses. The Supreme Court did not address the merits of this argument; it simply held that under one of its prior rulings, Section 513 was constitutional, and the lower court had no authority to ignore that precedent.

Contact a DuPage County Divorce Lawyer

Part of a parent's obligations after a divorce may include paying for children's education. Divorcing parents will need to think about how to pay for their children’s future college expenses. If you need advice from an experienced Naperville child support attorney, contact the Law Office of Ronald L. Hendrix, P.C., today at 630-416-7004 to schedule your free consultation.

 

Source:
https://courts.illinois.gov/Opinions/AppellateCourt/2019/2ndDistrict/2180898.pdf

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