New Spouse Income: Does It Affect An Educational Expense Obligation?

When it comes to paying for college, parents who have remained married to one another have a host of options. Some parents choose to start saving before their kids are even born to be sure the college fund can pay their children’s way. Others choose not to contribute at all. This freedom of choice does not exist for parents who do not remain married or who never were married. Instead, the expenses associated with higher education are often divided up amongst the parents (and sometimes the child) and are treated much like child support obligations. Most parents of college-bound children become aware of this at some point throughout the child support process. These obligations are usually based on the financial situations of everyone involved, amongst other factors.

But what happens when one of the parents marries someone else? Is this new spouse’s income considered part of the equation? Or, since the new spouse would not have been part of the picture had the parents been married and stayed married, are the new spouse’s contributions also not relevant in this scenario?

What is the Basis of Education Support Obligations?

In Illinois, obligations to pay educational expenses in these cases are governed by Section 513 of the Dissolution Act. This law says that the court can make provisions for the children’s educational expenses. The expenses covered can include factors like room and board, tuition, dues, transportation, books, fees, application costs, and insurance costs. Once a child earns a bachelor’s degree, the court cannot order payments for further education. When deciding what sort of educational support to order, there are four factors the court is supposed to consider:

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

What About the Financial Resources of a Parent’s New Spouse?

The first factor a court should consider in ordering educational support is the financial resources of the parents. So, what happens where one of the parents marries a new spouse? Do the resources and income of that new spouse count as the financial resources of the parent for these purposes? The Illinois Court of Appeals recently answered this question. The answer is slightly complicated.

A court is allowed to consider the new spouse’s income to the extent that it frees up the parent’s own assets for contribution. For example, if both the parent and the new spouse have sizable incomes, then the court can consider the fact that the spouse’s income is available to pay the electric bill and the mortgage payment, leaving more of the parent’s income available to pay educational expenses. But this does not mean that the spouse’s income can always be imparted to the parent.

Imagine the situation where the parent is a stay-at-home parent and he or she relies on the new spouse for all of his or her financial support. In these cases while the spouse’s income may be relevant to obtain a full picture of the parent’s financial resources, the spouse’s income cannot act as the baseline for determining the parent’s financial contribution to the educational expenses.

Call Sullivan Taylor, Gumina & Palmer, P.C.

If you are involved in a dispute over educational expenses or other child support obligations, you need an experienced Illinois family law attorney who will fight for your rights. That is why you should call Sullivan Taylor & Gumina, P.C. Our phone number is 630-665-7676.