Friday, September 23, 2011

Past College Contribution Not Allowed

The Illinois Supreme Court has spoken. In a decision released in September 2011, the Supreme Court stopped a county judge from ordering a divorced father to pay the portion of college tuition that was paid by the former wife prior to her filing a motion seeking contribution for such expenses.

In the case the father had three sons with his former wife and divorced in 1996. The divorce settlement reserved the issue of college expenses for future consideration which is very common in divorces. The mother in this case asked a Cook County circuit judge to award her past and future college expenses for all three sons. The judge ordered the father to pay 75 percent of the PAST and future college expenses for all three sons, which totaled more than $273,000.

The father appealed and the appellate court said the order improperly changed the divorce decree before the date the mother asked for it to be changed so that the father should not be liable for college expenses that predated the mother filing a motion with the court. The Supreme Court agreed and sent the case back to the county judge with orders to recalculate the father's contributions and  exclude expenses incurred before the mother's motion was filed.

The court said: "Under the plain language of the [divorce] statute, a retroactive modification is limited only to those installments that date back to the filing date of the petition for modification. In light of the statutory language, the appellate court therefore correctly held that support could not be ordered for expenses which predate the filing of Janet's petition."

So what does it mean? More than ever, a parent seeking a contribution to college or vocational expenses must at the earliest opportunity file a motion with the court asking for contribution - especially if the parent's respective obligations are not spelled out in their divorce papers.