FAQ – College Expenses: Will I still have to pay after my child turns 18?

college.expenses1Many people are aware that a person’s child support obligation terminates when either the child turns 18 years-old or graduates from high school, whichever is later; however, Section 513 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (IMDMA) also allows for the payment/contribution for expenses related to a child’s college or higher education. §513 considers a wide array of factors and circumstances in determining if, and what amount, a person must contribute to their child’s college or higher education expenses. Below are some questions I regularly receive from clients regarding to college expenses:

a) Must my ex-spouse pay for my child’s educational expenses?

No. Although this is not the common result, a court is not obligated under §513 to order a parent to contribute to the college/educational expenses of the child. The court considers many factors pursuant to §513 in making its determination as to who should pay and what amount. If, after analyzing the relevant facts , the court finds that one parent is unable to contribute towards these expenses, the judge may find that the he/she does not need to contribute. Each case is different, and although there is no “cookie cutter” answer as to who pays for what, a courts commonly will require all parties: mom, dad and the child to contribute at least something towards that child’s higher education.

b) Can the judger order contribution to my child’s trade school?

Yes. §513 educational expenses extend to both college/university expenses, as well as professional training, (and in some cases high school G.E.D.). The theory behind payment towards §513 educational expenses is that many parents have the ability to contribute to the success of their children’s future by contributing to their child’s education and training, regardless of what that profession may be. Illinois law recognizes that not all children will attend the traditional college or university, therefore §513 allows for the payment of professional, vocational and even G.E.D. training/schooling.

c) Is the income of my ex-husband’s/ex-wife’s spouse considered in determining contribution to the payment of college/educational expenses?

Yes. Unlike the determination of child support, a spouse’s income can, and will be, considered by the court in determining one’s ability to contribute to the payment of educational expenses. There are many factors the court considers in determining whether to award any money toward the payment of child’s college/educational expenses, one of the most significant factors the court may consider is “the financial resources of both parents”. For that reason, a spouse’s income will directly impact the court’s determination as it directly affects the financial resources of a particular parent. This factor is worded to accommodate those who have remarried and in the processes substantially increased his/her financial stability.

d) How will my child’s choice in college affect what I am ordered to pay? (i.e. -public university, private university, and community college tuition rates and costs)

This is one of the most commonly asked questions I receive from clients. The answer I tell them is always the same, “It depends.”

The unique thing about §513 education expense cases is that no case is ever the same, and the outcomes vary on the individual case facts. As previously discussed, the courts have a wide discretion in awarding these educational expenses and will look at a wide array of factors in reaching its decision. Perhaps the child is extremely gifted and is eligible for scholarships such that his/her tuition to Harvard is no more than in-state tuition. Or perhaps the child is concentrating in a particular field such as religious studies and must attend a specific educational facility to accommodate his/her area of study. These are but some of the various factors that will govern a court’s decision in awarding educational expenses.

Another factor in the award of college expenses also depends on the presiding judge. Some judges may order that a certain percentage of the educational expenses are split between the child and the parents in accordance with that particular institution’s tuition rates. Others may simply order the contributing parent to pay a set dollar amount toward the child’s education regardless of the learning institution the child selects and it’s respective costs.

e) Can a court order payment toward post-graduate schooling such as medical or law school?

Yes, although the court is ultimately given the discretion to decide what amount, if any, the parents or parent should pay toward the post-secondary education of the child. §513 expenses are determined on a case-by-case basis; meaning there is no black and white rule the judge must follow in awarding these costs. The Judge is given a wide range of discretion to determine what amount, if any at all, the court should award toward the payment of post-secondary educational expenses. The court will look at variety of factors in reaching its determination, and depending on the circumstances, find that the child is responsible for all, some or no expenses for post graduate education– each case is unique to the set of facts.

The attorneys at Hall, Rustom & Fritz LLC can assist you with your family law/child support/college expense issues.  Call lawyer Michael Fritz at (309) 699-4691 to schedule a free consultation.