Most parents wish for their children to do better than themselves, to go to college, to receive a
better education and land that dream job. However, not all parents know how their children’s
college educations will be funded and how much they can and how much they may be obligated
to contribute themselves. Married couples and co-parents will generally have many discussions
regarding this enormous expense and may make decisions about how to save for, and
ultimately fund, their children’s college educations.

But when two parents are in the midst of a divorce, a wrench is thrown into this plan.

What many parents do not know is that Section 513 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of
Marriage Act grants the courts authority to order the parents to be responsible for a portion of
their children’s college expenses. And this obligation may not just be limited to tuition and
school fees, but can include housing expenses (either on campus or off campus), medical
expenses (including insurance premiums), living expenses (food, utilities, transportation), and
the costs of books and school supplies.

Commonly, parents who are made aware of the statute during their divorce may include
provisions in their Marital Settlement Agreement with vague statements that they each will be
responsible for college expenses but do not specify which specific expenses or what percentage
of those expenses each will be responsible for. When their children are still young, this seems
like an easy way to settle this issue when dealing with the myriad of other issues that pop up in
a divorce. However, when junior or senior year of their child’s high school education comes
around, the discussion comes back up and both parents are generally left sitting with the
uncertainty of what exactly his and her obligation may be, and the questions start swirling
around: Who has to maintain the health insurance? Are out-of-pocket expenses still to be split
50/50? How much of that $30,000 a year tuition will I be responsible for? Do I need to co-sign
on a student loan? Should my child be required to contribute too? And the many other expenses
that arise when a child enters college.

Parents should not wait until the eve of their child leaving for school to deal with this, especially
if it was not addressed at all in their Marital Settlement Agreement or Judgment for Dissolution
of Marriage because the statute specifically states that a party can only seek reimbursement for
expenses paid if an obligation existed at the time the expense was incurred.
Parents should also be aware that college expenses are treated as a form of child support and
are subject to all of the rules and remedies that apply to child support. The obligation to
contribute to their children’s college expenses can be enforced through the courts and can
always be modified.

If you are in this situation, it is best to consult a family law attorney who can identify your options
and obligations and provide the necessary legal advice so that you and your children are not
completely shouldered with the hefty expense of a college education without the help of the
other parent.

by Brandy Wisher