Paying for College When Parents Are Divorced

When parties to a divorce have children, they typically address issues related to those children such as custody, visitation, and child support. One other issue, however, that parents may not anticipate, particularly if their children are very young, is the payment of college expenses. In many cases, it is far too speculative to determine what the parties’ respective financial situations will be when their children are ready to enter college, what the costs might be, and if the children will even attend college at all. As a result, many marital settlement agreements or court rulings in contested divorces will simply reserve the issue of college expenses to a later date, when some of these issues become clearer.

Under the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, a court can divide college expenses between divorced parents, as well as the child, based on a number of different factors, including the parents’ abilities to pay for college, the child’s financial resources, and the child’s likelihood of academic success. However, divorced parents should be aware that under Illinois law, a parent’s ability to pursue college expenses from the other parent does have time limitations.

If, for instance, a marital settlement agreement has reserved the issue of payment of college expenses for children, as many such agreements do, then the custodial parent cannot ask for the reimbursement of retroactive college expenses from the other parent. In other words, a parent cannot request college expenses that were incurred prior to the date that the parent filed his or her petition requesting that the expenses be paid. This prevents parents and children from incurring substantial college expenses, perhaps without even the other parent’s knowledge or consent, and then expecting that parent to pay large portions of those expenses well after the expenses have been incurred.

It is essential, then that a parent who wishes a former spouse to pay at least a portion of a child’s college expenses should file a petition for relief  as soon as the child solidifies his or her plans to attend college. When the parties have a clear sense of the true costs of college attendance, as well as the child’s ability to successfully attend college, the court can make an order that best benefits and meets the needs and circumstances of all parties involved.

For assistance in requesting college expenses from your former spouse for your child, contact your Naperville divorce attorney. Our divorce lawyers will help you determine the best financial path for your family and your child.

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