Well, it’s August again. And it is time for the annual post-judgment petitions for educational expense contributions for college costs. Our domestic relations statute allows for the parties to defer decisions about college educational expenses for their children until a time after the divorce when the issue of college costs arises. The actual citation for the rules and procedures is found in the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (750 ILCS 5/513):
Support for non-minor children and educational expenses:
(a) The court may award sums of money out of the property and income of either or both parties or the estate of a deceased parent, as equity may require, for the support of the child or children of the parties who have attained majority …
The statute goes on to list the various terms and conditions needed to file and prove the right to require contribution from your child’s or children’s parent spouse for college educational expenses. What does this mean for you?
Most importantly, it is necessary to have an idea of what your child or children’s overall college costs are going to be. Virtually all colleges and universities will issue an award letter to a student (or have this information available on-line). The usual approach is to be given an “aid package” that allows the student to “accept” or “reject” various grants, scholarships, loans, work-study awards, and other forms of financial assistance. Depending upon the college or university, there may be a formal award letter that indicates your expected family contribution. It is this “contribution” figure that will form the basis of the request to your child’s other parent. Note well the use of the words other parent, because the Paternity Act borrows from and treats children from parents who were not married similarly.
It is recommended that you begin the process of negotiation for college expense contributions well in advance of the start of the new college year. The spring prior to fall enrollment is not too soon to get an idea as to whether you will be faced with resistance from your child’s parent regarding sharing college expenses costs.
Finally, be aware that there is much more to college contribution costs than room, board, books, fees and tuition. Understand that there are costs for transportation, to and from school, living expenses while away at school, laundry, paper, supplies, computer access charges, minor fees and expenses, and even some portion of the family’s utility and other expenses for children who are living at home and commuting to college.