Unlike many other states which refuse to opine on college costs of emancipated children, Illinois is one of the few states that has jurisdiction over divorcing/divorced parents (or parents who have never been married with college age children) and that can order them to pay for post-secondary educational expenses for non-minor children.
Under 750 ILCS 5/513. Educational Expenses for a Non-Minor Child, the Court can order parents to pay for college expenses for non-minor child(ren) using the income of the parents or their marital property/estate as a threshold from which to decide each parents’ obligation and whether the parties have historically contributed to 529 accounts on behalf of the minor child(ren) and intend to continue to do so. In fact, starting in high school, parents are likely required to pay for the cost of up to five college applications, the cost of two standardized college entrance examinations, and the cost of one standardized college entrance examination preparatory course. The Court uses the cost of attendance at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to place a cap on the amount of money the parents must pay for college expenses. At the time of this blog, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign annual In-State Cost of Attendance is $33,558-$38,744. See https://www.admissions.illinois.edu/invest/tuition.
While the Court can order parental contribution, children do have an obligation as well. The law requires the minor child to maintain a C average, or the parental obligation can cease. Moreover, the parental duty to pay for college expenses ends when the non-minor child turns 23, or 25 when an exception applies, such as a child experiencing illness or chooses to serve in the military prior to starting post-secondary education. Additionally, the Court usually requires the parties and the non-minor child to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to make up contribution costs if parental income is insufficient.
In the vast majority of cases, mediation offers many benefits over traditional litigation:
- Autonomy: Mediation allows the parties to make decisions for their family without the intervention of a Judge. Thus, couples can make the best decision for their families, and not have life-altering decisions left up to a Judge that knows nothing of the intimacies of their lives.
- Efficiency: The mediation process is not hindered by overloaded courts and judges’ schedules. If both parties are committed to the process, they can proceed at their own pace and move things along much more quickly.
- Cost-effectiveness: Because of the efficiency, plus the lack of courtroom preparation needed, mediation can usually save money for everyone involved. Leaving more money in the pockets of those divorcing, and ultimately more money for their children.
- Peacefulness: Rather than “fighting it out” in the courtroom, mediation involves both parties working together to come up with the best resolutions possible in the most amicable manner possible. Allowing for agreements that are thoughtful and lasting, thus, preventing post decree litigation.
- Privacy: The courtroom is a public forum where the intimate details of your splintered marriage relationship are on display. Mediation sessions are private, allowing both parties to talk openly and candidly to get to a fair and equitable agreement.
- Better for your children: Mediation helps clients minimize the turmoil of the divorce on their children and bring less conflict home. In the mediation sessions, you can keep the children out of the process completely, never involving the children with court or exposing them to third parties that make decisions on their behalf that aren’t you.
As you can see, while Illinois law can require divorcing/divorced parents to contribute to college expenses, parties who choose to mediate the issue of college expenses are able to deviate from the law and make agreements that works for their family now and in the future. Working with a mediator on future or current educational financial obligations leads to thoughtful outcomes, saves precious family resources, and truly considers the best interest of your child(ren).
If you would like to learn more about mediation, please schedule a consult with me today and I will be happy to answer your questions.
Anne Prenner Schmidt, Esq.