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Kathryn L. Harry & Associates, P.C.

Paying for College Post-Divorce

Posted on in Child Support

Illinois family attorneyStatistics from the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS) show that approximately 62 percent of Illinois high school graduates go directly to college in the following year, with that number on the rise. If your children decide to go to college, you may have an obligation, even if you are divorced, to help contribute to that fund. Being armed with the relevant information can help you understand the extent of your responsibility to contribute, if any, versus anything you may personally elect to contribute.

Illinois Law on “Non-Minor Support”

As with most aspects of family law, an Illinois court will usually only get involved in the issue of college expenses if the two divorcing parents cannot agree on the obligations (or lack thereof) of each party during their divorce itself. If a court does have to get involved, the relevant Illinois law is fairly specific about obligations in some aspects, but others are left almost entirely up to the interpreting authority. It is referred to as the law of non-minor support (even though some college freshmen may be under the age of 18 when they begin school).

The law sets out specifics in terms of what should be covered in most cases (though they are not required to be covered) - tuition, room and board, insurance, books and supplies, and the like. Changes were made to the law in 2016 to clarify a host of issues, most notably to provide caps on how long support should be extended - until the age of 25 as an absolute last resort, though most would cease at age 23 absent good cause. However, the open-endedness of not limiting education expenses to the items listed can sometimes be cause for debate between the parents, so if it is at all possible to preemptively agree on who contributes what, it is best for you and your ex-spouse to do so.

Making Modifications

It is important to keep in mind that college expenses do constitute a form of support, which means that modification of the amount is possible if you experience life changes that require it. Unlike with support for a minor child, non-minor support is not subject to the state child support guidelines, and thus an individual judge has much more leeway in determining just how much is appropriate to ask a parent to contribute, based on their individual financial situation.

Generally, the ability to ask for modification of support obligations in cases involving college expenses will follow the same formula as cases involving support for minors - namely, if a “substantial change in circumstances” occurs, such as a significant pay cut or onset of a disability which means a smaller amount of funds will be available for the contributing parent’s life expenses. Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to grant modification is up to the relevant court, but it is rare that such changes are not approved if the person filing can prove that their quality of life would be significantly adversely impacted.

DuPage County Child Support Attorneys

Not every couple will need to entertain the issue of college expenses, but if it comes up, having a plan in place can alleviate significant trouble and time spent on the question. The skilled DuPage County family law attorneys at the office of Kathryn L. Harry & Associates, P.C. may be able to assist with questions and concerns.



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