February 21, 2012

Does Illinois require a divorced parent or biological parent to pay for a college education? The answser is that it depends on the academic record of the child, whether the child chooses a private school or a state school and the financial resources of each parent and the child. This is a decision best discussed by the parents and the child before the college application process begins. Unfortunately, this is not done in many homes split by divorce. The situation is complicated by remarriage of the parents or the existence of other biological children of these parents. Step-children, unless they have been legally adopted, do not count in this equation. The step-parent may have a desire to support these children but is under no legal obligation to pay for their college expenses.

I had the privilege of successfully appealing the post-judgment (after the divorce was finalized, in this case, years later), appeal of the leading case in Illinois regarding the obligation to pay for college education of children of divorced parents, GREIMAN V. FRIEDMAN, 414 N.E. 2d 77, 90 Ill. App. 3d 941 (1980).

Illinois law provides that a parent in a divorce or parentage case may be required to pay for the college or vocational education of a child, 750 5/513 ILCS. This support may be ordered during or after judgment is entered in a family law case. College expenses are considered to be a form of child support, even if the child is over 18 years of age. At the time the child is ready for college, the court considers the financial circumstances of each of the parents, including the income and expenses of each. The financial picture of the student is also examined. Has the student worked to save money for college? Has the student spent money foolishly on an expensive car or partying rather than plan to contribute to his college fund?

Perhaps most importantly, has the student been diligent in his studies? Has she been a good student? If she is enrolled in college already, is she scheduled to finish in four years? If the student will not graduate on time, there should be a good reason such as switching majors or transferring schools, study abroad or illness. Partying, incomplete grades, withdrawing from classes and bad grades are not looked upon favorably by judges.

The courts cannot order a parent to pay for any college expenses after the child receives a bachelor's degree under Illinois law. A parent may be ordered to pay for college expenses even after the child has graduated, where there was no prior order addressing the issue of college. In one recent case, the court held that the children born during a void marriage were still entitled to receive payment from the father after they had received their degrees.

If college is in your child's future, please call us for a consultation: Law Offices of Janet Rubel, Suite 500, 555 Skokie Blvd., Northbrook, IL 60062. Telephone 847-480-1020.