After an Illinois divorce, your obligation to pay child support ends when a child has turned 18 or graduated high school (whichever comes last) but you are still obligated to contribute to your child’s college education.  But what if your child elects to attend a college that is simply not worth the expense?

“The 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.” 750 ILCS 513(a)

While the court may require payment of college expenses by a parent does the parent have any input in where the child goes to school or what type of studies the child pursues? It’s a difficult question because the court has jurisdiction over the parents as formerly divorced parties but has no jurisdiction over the adult child.

For years, Illinois courts have often flouted that jurisdictional requirement in ordering something like, “Mom pays one-third, Dad pays one-third, and the child can pay one-third through scholarship, grants, or work.” Without the child invested in his or her own education, the results of that education will obviously be sub-par.

Under Illinois law as it currently stands, the parents have no input in what type of post high-school education the child gets.  Practically, this is ridiculous as college is not a good fit for all people yet there are dozens of expensive schools who prey on poor students who are willing to pay full tuition.  Moreover, the type of education is completely within the control of the child.  A child can pursue engineering or basket weaving and present their parents with the same tuition bill.

Often in the case of a child who pursues an extremely expensive and impractical education, the judge will simply order a very small contribution from the parents and deliver a lecture as to the practicality of pursuing this educational route. The counter argument to that is to quote the statute in that “the actual cost of the child’s post-secondary expenses, including tuition and fees, provided that the cost for tuition and fees does not exceed the amount of in-state tuition and fees paid by a student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for the same academic year” 750 ILCS 513(d)(1).  Therefore any cost below in-state tuition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is automatically reasonable.  The tuition and fees for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as of this date are $ 15,868.

Unfortunately, divorced parents often will satisfy their child’s desires whether it’s in the best interests of the child or whether those desires, like choice of college, are affordable.  After all, the choice will be paid 50% by the other party.

Just recently, a Dupage County court has declared the entire section 513 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage act unconstitutional.

The judge in that case said, “The rational basis standard utilized in [a previous case that upheld the act] presumes that never married or divorced couples are less normal, and less likely to provide post-secondary education for their offspring than couples who are married, or single parents. While this may have been true in 1978, there is no basis for such a conclusion today,” 

The law as it stands creates two classes of people: divorced parents who are forced to pay for the post-high school education without input and married parents who can pay or not pay for college as they see fit.  So, a divorced parent is denied the same rights as a married parent over what clearly seems to be a fundamental issue.

It remains to be seen if this decision will be enforced by Illinois courts outside of Dupage County’s 2nd judicial district but the argument still remains in any domestic relations court in Illinois. In Illinois’s 1st district which includes Chicago we shall see what the final outcome will be.

Contact my Chicago, Illinois office for a free consultation to learn more about how college expenses may effect your pending or existing divorce.