If you have children, you have probably given a great deal of thought to the fact that they will one day graduate from high school and head off to the world of higher education. Of course, along with that idea comes the realization of just how expensive it is going to be to send your children to college. Over the last several decades, the cost of tuition at a four-year private university has more than doubled. During that same period, the average tuition at a four-year public school has more than tripled!
Determining how—or even if—you are going to pay for your child’s college education or child support is hard enough for parents who are still married to one another. For those who are divorced, the decision is often even more complicated.
College Expenses as a Financial Decision During Divorce
The first thing that you need to know about your potential responsibility regarding your child’s college costs is that Illinois law recognizes the issue as of one of financial relevance in a divorce rather than a right of the child. If this seems confusing, we can look at it in a different way. Child support for a minor child is a financial matter, obviously, but the law sees child support as an entitlement belonging to the child—an entitlement that cannot be waived by either parent following a divorce.
Once the child has graduated high school or turned 18 years old, whichever is later, he or she is no longer entitled to support from his or her parents. The provision in the law that addresses help with college costs refers to such help as “non-minor support” but specifies that the child “is not entitled to file a petition for contribution.” In practice, this means that the issue is one that is meant to be resolved as a financial matter between the parents in their divorce.
What Will the Court Consider?
When making a determination regarding non-minor support for college expenses, the court will take into account a number of factors. According to the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, the court is required to consider:
- The current and anticipated financial resources of each parent, including their retirement savings
- The current and anticipated needs of each parent, including their needs in retirement
- The current and anticipated financial resources of the child, including available grants and scholarships
- The child’s academic performance
- The standard of living that the child would have had if the divorce had not occurred
The court may also consider any other factor that it deems to be relevant to the situation. These considerations are intended to give the court a full understanding of each parent’s financial situation following the divorce and to ensure that any contributions that may be ordered are equitable. For example, it would not be in anyone’s best interest to order the child’s father to help pay for his child’s college costs if he is struggling in good faith to afford his own reasonable living expenses. On the other hand, if the father is living comfortably, and the child’s mother is struggling, ordering the father to contribute to college expenses may be an equitable decision.
Limits on Non-Minor Support
If the court does order you to help contribute toward your child’s college expenses, the law provides limits regarding what you can be asked to pay. First, your money must be used for educational expenses, which include tuition, room, board, books, supplies, fees, travel, utilities, and medical costs while your child is enrolled in an undergraduate program or trade school certification program. Except for good cause shown, the court shall base its calculations for tuition, room, and board on what an average student would pay in the same school year at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. All of the expenses must be incurred before your child turns 23 years old. For good cause shown, the court could extend this limitation to the child’s 25th birthday.
The court may terminate an ongoing order for non-minor support if the child does not maintain a “C” average.” If the child gets married, the order will be terminated as well.