Thursday, February 4, 2010

Obligations to contribute to college expenses - Summary of Illinois Law

The court can award college contributions at any time until the child receives a 4 year degree (not graduate degree contributions) and courts generally will not order a parent to pay toward a child that takes more than 4 years to complete a 4 year degree. The educational expenses may include room, board, dues, tuition, transportation, books, fees, registration and application costs, medical expenses including medical insurance, dental expenses, and living expenses during the school year and periods of recess.

There is much more to it than that and courts weighs a number of factors including:
(1) The financial resources of both parents.
(2) The standard of living the child would have enjoyed had the marriage not been dissolved.
(3) The financial resources of the child.
(4) The child's academic performance.

A question I often also get is "What about the income of my new spouse?” While the new spouse's income is not directly considered in the equation, many judge's view the "financial resources of both parties" to include household income. In other words, if you remarried someone with high income, then the argument goes that the additional household income would free up some of your own income to contribute to the costs of your child's college. It's not uniformly applied and each case is different. Often time even the judge's views differ. Some believe parents should only be obligated to contribute to what a state school costs, even if your child is going to private school. Others are more lenient and do not consider the public-private differences in tuition. Another issue is the judge's view on the student's expected contribution. Are they expected to take out loans? If so then how much?

These and other issues come up in nearly every college contribution situation and each is assessed on a case-by-case basis. One thing is for sure: if you have a child going to college, start the discussions of how to pay for it and gather what information is needed to assess need as early as possible. I often give the advice that information is ammunition to your attorney. If they do not have enough of it, they have nothing to fire back at the other side.