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This article will review section 513 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act which grants the Court the authority to order a parent to help pay for a child’s college education.

Key Takeaways

Illinois is one of the few states that requires a parent to help pay the college expenses of their child or children.  The Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act provides in section 513, that a court has the authority to enter an order requiring a divorced parent or parent of a child out of wedlock to help pay for the college expenses.

If you are divorced and your Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage provides language in the settlement agreement that the parties will pay for college, the Court’s interpret this to mean that the duty to pay college expenses is set and the Court’s job, if the parties cannot come to an agreement, is to decide who pays how much.  

If the divorce judgment is silent as to the payment of future college expenses or just refers to the statute that at some point the payment of college expenses will be set, then the Court’s interpret this to mean that the duty has not yet been set or established and therefore, the payment of college expenses will only be as to expenses incurred since the filing of the Petition or for future expenses.

The statute is very specific and defines what are “educational expenses” and it does not just mean tuition, the statute does not provide a formula but does list factors a court will consider in determining who pays for what and provides when the ordered college expenses can be terminated based upon conduct of the child.

This article will review section 513 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act which grants the Court the authority to order a parent to help pay for a child’s college education.  750 ILCS 5/513 provides:

“Section 513 – Educational expenses for a non-minor child.

….. unless otherwise agreed by the parties, all educational expenses which are the subject of a petition brought pursuant to this Section shall be incurred no later than the student’s 23rd birthday, except for good cause shown but in no event later than the child’s 25th birthday.”

What Is Included In The Definition Of College Expenses?

The price of tuition is not the only “cost” that a parent must help pay.   Under Illinois law, a Court can take into consideration other expenses related to a child’s attendance at a post-secondary institution including living expenses, books and supplies, medical expenses and tuition and fees.  750 ILCS 5/513  

          Section 513(d)(4) provides the following list of expenses the Court can consider and order the parents to “help” pay:

--actual cost of post-secondary expenses, including tuition and fees

--actual cost of the child’s housing expenses (whether on or off campus)

--child’s medical expenses (insurance/dental)

--reasonable living expenses during the academic year and during recesses

--books and other supplies necessary to attend college.  (750 ILCS 5/513(d)(4)

How is the contribution for each parent calculated?

The Illinois statute that gives the Court the authority to require a parent to pay college expenses does not provide a formula to calculate the share for each parent.  The statutory law does provide “factors” for the court to consider under subparagraph (j) (1-4).  Unlike the calculation of child support, it is within the Court’s discretion to determine how much each parent will be required to contribute to their child’s college expenses.  

The relevant factors as outlined by the statute are as follows:

  1. The present and future financial resources of both parties to meet their needs, including, but not limited to, savings for retirement.
  1. The standard of living the child would have enjoyed had the marriage not been dissolved.
  1. The financial resources of the child.
  1. The child’s academic performance.   750 ILCS 5/513(j) (1-4)

The parties are therefore required to provide the court with a “financial affidavit” which lists their current incomes, past incomes and assets and liabilities.  The Court will review the financial documents provided to determine the responsibility for each parent.

Termination Of Responsibility To Pay

Parents should also be aware that the statute provides the requirement to pay or help pay the college expenses will terminate if the child:  

  1. fails to maintain a “cumulative C grade point average”, except in event of illness or other good cause or  
  1. the child attains the age of 23, or
  1. receives a baccalaureate degree or
  1. marries.  

The statute provides the specific facts that DO NOT TERMINATE THE RESPONSIBILITY being, the child enlisting in the armed services, being incarcerated, or becoming pregnant.  

When Should A Parent File A Petition For Contribution Of College Expenses?

Some divorced parents can discuss and negotiate the amount of college expenses each will contribute to for their child or children.  Unfortunately, there are many who do not agree.  A parent who is seeking contribution toward the college expenses of their child should file their petition in Court as soon as the child starts to consider taking the college entrance exams in high school.  If you wait until the child is accepted at a college, you may lose the right to reimbursement for all the costs you have incurred up to the filing of your petition.

Section 513(b) provides the court with authority to award reimbursement of costs paid by the parent for expenses associated with applying for college.  The statute further allows the Court to order the parties to complete financial aid documents including FASFA and other financial aid forms.

The Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage statute, 750 ILCS 5/513(b), provides as follows:

“……. the court may require both parties and the child to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA) and other financial aid forms and to submit any form of that and other financial aid forms……”  and

“……. the court may require either or both parents to provide funds for the child to pay for……. (a) the cost of up to 5 college applications,  

  (b) the cost of 2 standardized college entrance examination

  (c) the cost of one standardized college entrance examination preparatory course.”

Under 750 ILCS 5/513(k), the statute specifically provides that the “establishment” of an obligation to pay college expenses is retroactive ONLY to the date of filing a petition.  This is only the case where there is no prior agreement between the parties.  If there was an obligation established at the time of the divorce or within an allocation judgment, the right to enforce that obligation could be filed at any time.

Therefore, if your divorce judgment provides that the parties will pay college expenses and the apportionment of the responsibility will be determined later, the petition can be filed at any time to request contribution or reimbursement for monies paid for college expenses.  However, if your divorce judgment is silent as to the ‘establishment” of the duty to pay college expenses, you should be filing your petition for contribution BEFORE your child attends college in the fall, if you expect to be reimbursed.

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