A lot of clients ask me: do I really have to pay for my child's college? The answer is “maybe.” Some clients are very surprised to learn that the Court can order them to pay for their child's college education, even though the child has turned eighteen and is legally an adult. However, Section 513 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, titled “Educational Expenses for a Non-minor Child,” provides that “[t]he 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.” Educational expenses are defined to include, but not be limited to, expenses such as tuition and fees, housing expenses, medical expenses, reasonable living expenses during the academic year and breaks from school, and books and other supplies.
Although the Court has the authority to require either or both parents to contribute to a non-minor child's educational expenses as defined above, the Court's authority is limited. For instance, in ordering the parties to pay these expenses, the Court must consider the financial resources of both parents and the child, the standard of living the child would have enjoyed had the parties not separated, and the child's academic performance. Also, the Court may not order the parties to pay for tuition and fees that exceeds the cost of in-state tuition and fees at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for the same academic year. Similarly, the Court may not order the parties to pay for housing expenses that exceed the cost for the same academic year of a double-occupancy student room with a standard meal plan in a residence hall operated by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In other words, the statute caps the amount the Court may order the parties to pay for tuition, fees, and housing to the same amount as a student would pay for tuition, fees, and housing at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign during the same academic year.
In addition, the statute states that the parents' obligation to pay for the child's educational expenses terminates when the child either: (1) fails to maintain a “C” average, (2) turns twenty-three, (3) receives a baccalaureate degree, or (4) gets married. It is important to understand this is just a summary of the law, and that the Court has wide discretion in ordering these expenses. Therefore, it is always prudent to seek the advice of an attorney if you have been requested to pay for your child's college education, or even ordered to do so. If you have been requested or ordered to pay for your child's college education and you have questions, feel free to contact our office for a free consultation at 312-648-6115.