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Who Pays for College After a Divorce?

It may already be in your divorce decree.  It has been tested several times as to its constitutionality, and has been found to be correct.  Courts in Illinois have the ability to require divorced parents to contribute toward their child’s college education expenses. So how do we determine who pays for college after a divorce?

In making such a determination, courts consider some of the following factors:

- Financial circumstances of both parents

- The child’s financial resources, including savings, scholarship funds, and grants

- The standard of living if the parents had not separated

- The child’s academic performance.

Before ordering a parent to contribute toward a child’s college expenses, a court will also consider factors such as the cost of the school. They will also consider the practicality of the proposed school considering the child’s goals and academic ability.  The standard the court now uses is the cost for a student’s enrollment at University of Illinois/Champaign – which in 2019, is an average cost between $31,000 to $36,000 for tuition, fees, room and board.  

A Parent’s Obligation for College Expenses

If your obligation is already in the Marital Settlement Agreement of your Judgment, you should review what expenses you may be obligated to pay.  For those parents who are currently in divorce proceedings, even though college may be years away, it is important to think about the following when preparing a settlement agreement:

- If there is a college fund already set aside for the child, how will future contributions be handled? 

- What if one parent saves more than the other?

- How can the parents’ contributions be affected by life changes such as illness, job loss, promotions, etc.?

- Are you still obligated to contribute to college if your child earns a C average- or below?

- Should you continue to contribute to the child’s college education if they are less than a full-time student?

- Will the court look at my retirement savings when making the assessment for my obligation to pay? 

It is important to look at all of the contingencies regarding your child’s future college enrollment now, as this will affect your financial future.  

Talk to an Illinois Family Law Attorney

Provisions for a child’s future college expenses should be a part of any marital settlement agreement. Even if the parents’ relative financial positions change in the intervening years, having an agreement in place for college expenses could help avoid costly litigation when the time comes for a child to start planning for college. Parents will benefit from knowing in advance what their obligations will be, so they can start a college fund or make other financial arrangements in advance. Talk to your attorney about what your current, or future financial obligations could be.  


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