Contributing to a Child’s College Expenses After Divorce

While most consider January as the start of a new year, parents with college-bound high school seniors also regard this month as the prime-time to begin the college application process. In a few months, seniors will be selecting college destinations and learning just how much financial aid they will receive. Additionally, final decisions will have to be made by parents regarding their own financial contributions. And while married parents have no legal obligation to contribute to a child’s college expenses, divorced parents often find themselves obligated to pay some portion of a child’s college costs as a part of child support.

New Appellate Court Case Deals with Changing Parental Contribution to College Costs

In a new child support case decided by the Illinois Court of Appeals, a father appealed the trial court’s order granting the mother’s motion to terminate/modify her contribution to their children’s college expenses. When the couple divorced, two of their children were still minors. At the time of the divorce, the court ordered the mother to pay child support but decided to hold off on the issue of who would contribute to the children’s college expenses. Then, in 2010, the father filed a motion requesting that the mother contribute to one of their child’s college expenses. The judge decided that the mom would have to pay 60 percent of the college bill and the dad would have to pay 40 percent.

After a couple of years, the father went to court seeking an order forcing the mother to pay her 60 percent. The mother then filed a motion to terminate/modify her obligation to pay toward the college expenses. The court held a hearing at which the child testified that he had applied for all of the possible scholarships and loans, and that his tuition obligation was $4,000 per semester. The child also testified that he had specifically selected the school because it provided him with the most financial assistance.

At a later hearing, the mother argued that she should not have to contribute to the college costs because her son was not working to pay for his own education and because the son was not speaking to her. Additionally, she argued that her son was not progressing appropriately at school. His grades were average. The trial court ordered that because of the mother’s inability to pay, and the child’s academic performance, the mother would no longer have to contribute to the education costs. The father then successfully appealed.

College Cost Contribution is a Form of Child Support

Under Illinois law, this sort of court-ordered college contribution is a form of child support. When a court considers whether it will modify this sort of order, it is supposed to consider four factors:

  1. The financial resources of both parents;
  2. The standard of living a child would have enjoyed if the parents had not divorced;
  3. A child’s financial resources; and
  4. A child’s academic performance.

In the case described above, the appellate court reversed the trial court’s decision because it found that the trial court’s decision that the parents annual incomes were relatively equal went against the manifest weight of the evidence. The mom had an income of $68,960 after her child support payments were deducted, while the dad’s entire income consisted of $35,000 in disability payments a year.

The appellate court also found that there had not been a “substantial change in circumstances,” so modifying the original college cost order was not appropriate. The son was always an average student and had never worked during college, so these were not changes. Without a substantial change in circumstances, the court cannot modify a child support order. The court also specifically noted that the son’s failure to communicate effectively with his mother was not a valid reason, in and of itself, to terminate the support.

Need Help? Contact an Experienced Illinois Divorce Attorney

If you are considering a divorce, or have questions regarding child support payments and college expenses after divorce, contact the experienced DuPage County divorce lawyers at Sullivan Taylor, Gumina & Palmer, P.C. P.C. immediately. This will be a challenging stage of your life, but we can help you through the legal ins and outs to help lessen those struggles.