Are Divorced Parents Required to Pay for College in Illinois?

As Chicago divorce lawyers clients with children often if divorced parents are required to pay for college. The general simplified answer is “yes”. The law in Illinois is that if the parents of a college-age child are unmarried (either divorced or never married to each other) the Court can require each parent to contribute to the cost of a college education.

How Much Will a Parent Have to Pay?

Court’s will often require both parents and the child to contribute to college (baccalaureate degree only, Master’s degree or other advanced education is not included). I have seen Judges order the parents and the child to each pay for college in equal shares of one-third (1/3). This can be accomplished through loans by the parents and/or students.

The initial inquiry is to look at any agreement that the parents may have entered previously. Usually in the form of a marital settlement agreement or parenting agreement that details parenting time and parenting responsibilities and often addresses college expenses. If there is an agreement in place, for example, that the parties will each pay 50% of the college expense then that is the starting point for the Court — absent any substantial change in circumstances brought to the court’s attention for modification of this agreement, the likely outcome is that Each parent pays 50%. More often, college costs are reserved until such time as the child or children become college age. This is wise as it is too difficult to predict what your ability to pay will be several years down the road. The next inquiry is to determine each parents’ ability to contribute to college based on the factors that the Illinois law has provided.

Illinois Law Addressing Educational Expenses of a Non-Minor Child

What Qualifies as “Educational Expenses”

If the court orders a parent to pay for college expenses, the child is required to sign a consent for the school to provide that parent with access to the child’s academic transcripts, records, and grade reports. In addition, if a court orders a parent to pay college expenses, the child must maintain a cumulative “C” grade point average.

If one or both of the parents have a 529 account for the benefit of the child, that account can be considered to be a resource of the child if the account was accumulated prior to a divorce. Any contributions made by a parent after a divorce could be considered a contribution from the contributing parent.

Factors Used to Determine the Amount of Contribution

The court will take into consideration the following in determining how much, if any, a parent must contribute to their child’s college expenses:

  1. The standard of living the child would have enjoyed had the marriage not been dissolved.
  2. The financial resources of the child.
  3. The child’s academic performance.

It does seem interesting that if the parents of a child are married, the State of Illinois cannot require them to contribute to the college expenses of their children. However, if the parents are not married, the State can require a parent to pay for college. This was constitutionally challenged in 1978 and again most recently in May of 2018 when a father challenged the constitutionality of this law in the Illinois courts. The local DuPage County Judge agreed with the father and held that section 513 entitled Educational expenses for non-minor children was unconstitutional. This was appealed directly to the Illinois Supreme Court

Is the Illinois Law Requiring Unmarried Parents Pay for College Constitutional?

Paying for College Expenses and the Yakich Case

The Illinois Supreme Court did not agree. The Supremes delivered their opinion on October 24, 2019 overruling Judge Else and dismissing the appeal. Section 513 stands in Illinois as written requiring non-married parents to contribute to the college expense of their children based on the statutory elements as detailed above.


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