Paying for College when Parents are Divorced

Paying for College when Parents are Divorced

As the father of two children who have recently graduated college, I know first-hand how difficult the entire college admissions process is on the family. It is stressful for both parents and children.

However, speaking as a divorce attorney, I also know that when parents no longer live together, it compounds the stress levels. When discussing higher education with my clients, I frequently am asked, “How much should do I have to pay for my child’s college education and how much should my ex-spouse pay?”

It should be remembered that the courts do not get involved in college expenses cases unless the parents cannot agree on how to split the costs. Parents can work together to come up with a plan that fits their financial needs without involving the courts. However, if an agreement cannot be agreed upon, the Illinois law lays out some regulations and leaves others open for review.

Under Section 513 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, a divorcing or divorced parent has the right to ask the other parent to contribute to a kid’s college education expenses. As a result, someone going through a divorce–or who is already divorced–has the right to ask a court to compel their ex-spouse to contribute to their child’s college expenses.

Nevertheless, while Illinois divorce law can require parents who are divorced to pay for their children’s college or trade-school expenses, many actual divorce agreements do not have specific terms for handling college costs. This is especially true when the children are still young.

Indeed, many settlements adopt a wait and see approach because things are so speculative at this time. For example, it may be unknown whether either spouse will eventually remarry, what their future income will be, or even what the costs of college will be down the road. Under these circumstances, the settlement may incorporate the state’s standard of allocating responsibility based upon their financial resources at the time the expenses are to be paid.  Then, as the children get closer to college age, it is easier for parents to agree on a specific shared percentage–such as a 50/50 percentage.

But there also are agreements that pre-designate who and how college will be paid. These too can be modified if there is a change of circumstances. If one parent agrees to pay for college but suffers a financial reversal, this spouse may be able to modify his or her obligation. Therefore, if your agreement can set aside money either upon divorce or periodically, such as monthly, it can help to ensure the future availability of funds for your child’s college education.

Regardless of whether you have communicated much with your “ex” over the years, it is important to stay in contact with him or her as your children get older.  This will help to make the entire college application process easier for everyone.  Without open channels of communication, your children might feel like they are stuck in the middle at a time when they are making so many other decisions in their lives.

I have years of experience working with parents like you, who want to do what is best for their children while maintaining a healthy financial situation.

Call (312) 621-5234 to learn more and to talk with me about your personal situation.

 For more information about Michael C. Craven and his services, contact Michael at or at Divorce Lawyers Chicago

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Michael Craven
Michael Craven 29 posts

Michael C. Craven is a well-known divorce attorney in Chicago, CPA and a partner of the law firm, Harrison & Held, LLP, located in the Chicago area. He is highly respected among other divorce attorneys, judges and his clients. He also holds a Master of Tax Law Degree (LLM). For more information about his services, contact Michael at or at Divorce Lawyers Chicago.

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