In Illinois, the court may, in its discretion, order parents to contribute to their child’s college expenses. Illinois law refers to this financial responsibility as “non-minor support.”
While the Illinois statute governing non-minor support does not make it a mandatory requirement that parents contribute to their child’s college expenses, it has become customary for judges in Illinois to commonly order parents to do so.
The college expenses covered by non-minor support usually include tuition, room & board, book fees, registration, application fees, and other costs due to the university, and may also include contribution to the child’s living expenses, transportation costs, health insurance and medical and dental expenses, as well as other college expenses the court finds in its discretion are reasonable.
The Illinois statute expressly limits a parent’s responsibility to contribute to the college expenses of the child only through the attainment of a bachelor’s degree.
An order setting forth a non-minor support obligation may include additional limitations on the parents’ financial support, such as terminating non-minor support in the event the child is not enrolled as a full-time student or is not remaining in good standing with the educational institution (e.g., the child’s Grade Point Average falls below a certain threshold set by the educational institution).
If an order is entered with the court establishing non-minor support obligations of the parents, each parent is allowed access to the child’s academic records at the educational institution.
As with many issues in domestic relations cases in Illinois, the parties may agree on how they wish to allocate contribution of their child’s college expenses among the parents and child and submit this agreement to the court for approval.
Alternatively, if the parties are unable to resolve the issue of non-minor support by agreement, the issue is presented to the court in a hearing for a judge to determine the allocation of the child’s college expenses between the parties and child.
An Illinois judge has the discretion in determining the extent and allocation of financial support that he/she deems fair and reasonable, and in making this determination, the court must consider the following factors:
1.) The financial resources of both parents;
2.) The standard of living the child would have enjoyed had the parties’ marriage not been dissolved;
3.) The financial resources of the child;
4.) The child’s academic performance; and
5.) Any other factors the court deems relevant.
“Discovery” can be utilized to obtain information and documents relevant to non-minor support.
Given the factors that are relevant to establishing an order for non-minor support, it is important for the parties to exchange information in discovery regarding each parent’s income, employment, and other financial resources, as well as documentation as to the total expenses that will be incurred for the child’s college and any financial aid that the child may be eligible to receive, such as grants or scholarships.
Additionally, documentation should be exchanged between the parties as to any special accounts that may have been previously established by either or both parties for future contribution to the child’s college, such as Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA) accounts or 529 Educational Savings Accounts.
Illinois statute provides that a parent’s payments toward college expenses can be ordered to be made directly to the educational institution or to the child or other parent. The statute also permits a trust or other account to be established for drawing funds for payment toward college expenses.
Illinois provides for contempt and enforcement proceedings in the event a parent is not complying with a non-minor support order. If the court finds that a parent’s non-compliance with the non-minor support order was willful and without justification, the court has the discretion to hold that parent in contempt and enter sanctions against that parent.
The law addressing non-minor support in Illinois has been recently evolving in a way that affects the timing of when the issue of college expenses should be brought to court.
For example, a parent may be barred from seeking reimbursement for college expenses on behalf of the child that were incurred prior to the filing of a petition to the court for non-minor support. However, the court may still take into consideration this parent’s financial contribution prior to the filing of his/her petition in allocating the future college expenses of the child.
On the other hand, if a parent requests the court address the issue of college expenses years in advance of the child attending college, the court may dismiss the issue as being too premature for adjudication, as may be the case when a child has not been accepted to or even applied to colleges yet and has no definitive college plans.
As such, it is imperative that a father reviews these issues with his Illinois men’s divorce attorney to determine the relevant timeframes and best strategy for addressing the issue of non-minor support with the court.