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Educational Expenses - Overhaul of 750 ILCS 5/513

The overhaul of the divorce act, known as the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, will affect all areas of the family law, including obligations to support adult children attending post-high school educational facilities, such as college or vocational schools. The revisions to this provision of the act (750 ILCS 5/513) are discussed in detail below.

Illinois falls under one of the minority of states (approximately 1/3) that allow courts to require parents to pay for post-high school expenses. This obligation only extends to children of divorce or those falling under a parentage action - if a family remains intact, an adult child does not have standing to ask for a contribution for college or other professional institution. The court has discretion to order parents to pay for all, nothing, or a portion of such expenses.

What is included under "educational expenses"? Under the Act, educational expenses may include, but are not necessarily limited to the tuition, fees, medical expenses (including insurance and dental expenses), books and supplies. The cost of housing is included, whether it is on campus or off campus. However, the housing expenses cannot exceed the cost for the same academic year of a double occupancy student room, with a standard meal plan, in a residence hall operated by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, unless good cause is shown. Costs also include the reasonable living expenses during both the academic year, and periods of recess, whether the student lives on campus or lives at the home of one of the parents and attends college as a non-resident student. In that instance, living expenses is defined as an amount that pays for the reasonable cost of the child's food, utilities and transportation.

What are some of the primary revisions that will commence on January 1, 2016? One of the primary changes to the college contribution provision is that there will be a cap on the amount that parents would be required to contribute. The University of Illinois now serves as the standard for the court for purposes of limiting contribution to tuition, fees, and housing. The act states that educational expenses may include "except for good cause shown, the actual cost of the child's post-secondary expenses, including tuition and fees, provided that the cost for tuition and fees does not exceed the amount of tuition and fees paid by a student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for the same academic year."

Courts can now require both parties and the child to complete a FAFSA and other financial aid forms. In addition to this, the court may require either or both of the parties to provide funds to the child to pay the cost of up to 5 college applications, 2 standardized college exams, and the cost of on prep course for a standardized college exam (such as the SAT and ACT).

The Act has also added language making it clear that an obligation to contribute towards college expenses can only go back to the date that the petition requesting such relief was filed. If your divorce judgment was silent regarding such obligations, and you file a motion after the child has graduated college seeking reimbursement for costs incurred in the past, most likely, you are out of luck.

What is the burden on the student? With the new revisions, the court can terminate the contributions of the parents if the child fails to maintain a "C" average (except in events of illness or other good cause), reaches the age of 23, receives a Bachelor's Degree, or marries. Parents have a right to access the child's educational records if they are to pay towards school.

These are general guidelines and do not constitute legal advice. Every situation is different, and the law may not apply to one family as it does to another. Please contact an attorney for advice and remember that when the new law takes effect, it will be new for everyone - the judges, lawyers, and the litigants.

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