Divorced Parents and College Expenses, Part 1: Will You Have to Pay?

With the current school year now in full swing, many high school seniors are starting to look ahead to next year and their plans to attend college. To those who have never experienced it, planning almost a year in advance may seem unnecessary, but the college admissions process can sometimes take longer than people realize. In addition, it is never too early to start figuring out how the student will pay for college. For many, the idea of staggering student loans is one that is less appealing, but how else can one afford to get a college degree? Per Illinois law, if you are the divorced parent of a child seeking a post-high school education and the other parent wants to help the child financially, you may be required to contribute to his or her college expenses as well.

A Financial Matter of Divorce

The Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act provides that help with college expenses may be seen by the courts as a type of child support, despite the child reaching the age of 18 and having graduated high school. The issue is also considered a financial concern attached to the divorce, meaning that it must be resolved between the parents—with the court’s help if needed—but the child does not have legal standing to formally ask for help with college expenses.

How Does the Court Decide?

Once a petition has been filed with the court regarding your child’s college expenses, the court must consider a number of factors to determine if it is appropriate to order your assistance. By law, the court must take into account:

  • The current and anticipated financial resources and needs of each parent, including savings set aside for retirement;
  • The financial resources and needs of the child, including available assistance programs, grants, and scholarships;
  • The standard of living created during the parents’ marriage and what they child may have expected if the parents stayed together; and
  • The child’s academic performance.

Based on the overall situation, the court may order one or both parents to contribute toward the child’s college expenses. Regardless of whether the court orders help with ongoing expenses, the court may require both parents and the child to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and other financial aid forms. Either or both parents may also be required to provide funds for up to five college applications, one standardized entrance exam prep course, and two standardized college entrance tests, like the SAT or ACT.

In an upcoming post, we will look more closely at what type of college expenses are eligible and the -responsibilities of the student. Until then, if you have questions about divorce, child support, or any other matter of family law, contact an experienced Orland Park family law attorney. Call 708-518-8200 to schedule a confidential consultation at Kezy & Associates today.