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Divorce is never easy, but it can be especially complicated when children are involved. Child support is obviously a critical component of any divorce settlement. However, there are many other more subtle issues to consider. One important consideration is how college expenses will be funded.

If the children are approaching college age, payments for college expenses may be negotiated in a settlement or decided in court. However, if the children are young and many years away from college, it may be difficult to allocate the payment responsibilities to one spouse.

College expenses “reserved” until they’re needed

Illinois courts handle this issue by reserving the right to revisit the issue when the children are closer to college age. Under section 513 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, the issue of college expenses is “reserved” until a more appropriate time. Each party has the right to petition the court at a later date to determine each parent’s contribution to the children’s college expenses.

In determining each parent’s contribution, courts in Chicago and other parts of Illinois consider numerous factors. They review each parent’s financial situation, the child’s financial resources, and the standard of living the child would have enjoyed had the parents remained married. The court may also consider the child’s academic performance and potential educational opportunities.

There are some conditions to contributions for college expenses. Illinois law limits forced contributions to only cover work towards a bachelors degree. Also courts may make the contributions conditional on the child being enrolled a minimum number of hours or maintaining a certain grade point average.

Time limits on “reserved” judgement

While the issue of college expenses can be reserved, the Illinois Supreme Court has ruled that the reservation isn’t the equivalent of a blank check. In a 2011 case, a woman used the reserved status to petition¬†her ex-husband for contributions to their three children’s college expenses. The complicating factor was that one child had already graduated from college and another was two years into college. The wife wanted backpay for tuition she had already paid.

The Supreme Court ruled that the reserved status can’t be used to obtain compensation for college expenses that have already occurred. That means that parents would be well-advised to start the college expenses petition process well in advance of their children leaving for school.

Scott Rogoff is a Des Plaines based divorce attorney who helps families throughout the Chicago area. He would be happy to consult with you on your right to petition for college contributions, your ex-spouse’s petition for contributions on your part, or any other divorce issue that you may need assistance with.