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Illinois Court Questions Law Requiring Divorced Parents to Pay for CollegeThe Illinois Supreme Court has upheld a portion of the state’s divorce law that can order both parents to help pay for a child’s college education, in response to a circuit court judge who ruled that it was unconstitutional. The circuit court judge had decided that forcing a divorced parent to contribute to college expenses is a violation of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which promises equal protection under state laws. Rather than argue the merit of the claim, the supreme court said that the circuit court judge lacked the authority to strike down the law because the supreme court had previously ruled that the law was constitutional. Only the supreme court has the authority to overturn that ruling, it said.

College Expenses

The law in question is Section 513 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, which states that courts may order divorced parents to use their assets and incomes to pay for a child’s post-high school education. Expenses may include:

  • Tuition
  • Housing
  • Books and supplies
  • Reasonable living expenses
  • Medical expenses

Divorced parents can share these expenses by allocating assets in their divorce agreement towards paying for college or continuing child support payments until the child graduates with a bachelor’s degree or turns 23, whichever happens first. The age deadline can be extended to 25 if good cause is shown. Continued child support payments may be dependent upon the child’s academic performance.

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Adjusting a College Financing Plan During DivorceGetting divorced can disrupt years of careful planning to pay for your children’s college educations. Both you and your co-parent may not have the financial resources to continue regular payments into a college fund. You may need to adjust your plan, which you can establish in your divorce agreement. Financial aid will also become more important, and your divorced status may increase the amount of aid that your child will be eligible to receive.

College Payment Plan

Illinois law allows you to petition to continue child support payments in order to pay for college after your child has turned 18. However, it may be more efficient to include a college financing plan as part of your divorce agreement than to try to extend your child support payments in the future. You can specify how you will divide the college expenses and other details, such as:

  • Limits on annual payments;
  • How many semesters the payments will continue;
  • What constitutes college expenses, such as textbooks and off-campus housing;
  • Whether there is an age limit for the student;
  • Whether there are restrictions on which college the student may attend, such as a public vs. a private school;
  • Whether the student must maintain a certain grade-point average; and
  • Whether the payments should go to the other parent, the student, or the school.

Financial Aid

College financial aid is available to students who fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid or a CSS Profile at participating colleges. Application reviewers will use the income of the student’s parents to determine how much aid the student is eligible for. With FAFSA, a student of divorced parents can report only the income of the parent he or she lives with for a majority of the time. FAFSA will use the parent who pays a greater amount of child support if parenting time is divided equally. Both child support and spousal maintenance payments are part of your income, but a single parent likely has less income than a two-parent household, which should qualify your child for greater financial aid. With CSS financial aid, some colleges require the students to submit incomes from both of their divorced parents.

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When You Can Extend Child Support Beyond Age 18In most cases, divorced or separated parents’ obligation towards child support for an individual child ends when the child turns 18 years old. If there are other children who are still minors, the support payments must be modified to reflect one less child. Otherwise, the support payments end once the last child becomes a non-minor. A parent may not feel like his or her parenting expenses are over if the non-minor child continues to live with him or her or is still financially dependent. There are three situations in which Illinois law allows the primary parent to continue receiving child support payments after the child has become a legal adult.

College Students

Young adults often choose to obtain a post-secondary education, but attending college is expensive. Illinois parents can petition to continue child support payments to cover a non-minor child’s college expenses, including tuition, housing, textbooks, school supplies, food, and medical expenses. Students who commute to school while still living with a parent are eligible, though the living expenses will be less. However, there are qualifications and limitations to the support payments:

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