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New Divorce Law on College Expenses

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Sweeping changes were made to Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (“IMDMA”), including changes to Section 513, which is the new divorce law on college expenses in Illinois that regulates the allocation of post-secondary education expenses for non-minor children.  These changes go into effect January 1, 2016, and eliminate some confusion and room for disagreement that led to litigation under the current version of Section 513. The changes bring clarity, definition and certainty, but that will also mean that some obligations that might be imposed under the current version of Section 513 will no longer be imposed when the new law goes into effect.

Section 513 requires both parents to contribute to the post-secondary educational expenses of their children according to factors that are intended to determine the amount each parent (and the student) must contribute. The list of possible expenses has been open-ended and open to interpretation which left room for disagreement and, therefore, sometimes led to protracted litigation.  The revisions regarding the covered expenses under Section 513 provide clarity, guidance and definition.

The new Section 513(a) contains a termination of the obligation to contribute to educational expenses at age 23, unless “good cause” can be shown why it should continue. It also  provides for the contribution obligation to end at age 25 regardless of the circumstances.  This will eliminate some of the fight over how long the obligation of the parents to pay college expenses must continue.

Section 513(b) was modified to include the costs for up to five (5) college applications, two (2) standardized college entrance exams and one (1) standardized college entrance exam prep course as educational expenses to be covered under this section.  These expenses were not previously covered in the statute.

Section 513(d) was rewritten to provide more definitive parameters for covered college expenses. The types of expenses covered have not changed much (tuition, fees, housing, meal plans, medical expenses (including medical insurance and dental), “reasonable living expenses” and books and supplies).  What have changed are the standards.

There is often disagreement over the type of college a parent should be obligated to provide for, and the sky has been the limit. That left people arguing whether a child should attend a local community college, an Ivy League school (with Ivy League tuition), a state school, a private school, etc. The new rules do not completely eliminate the potential for argument. Parents will still likely disagree whether Johnny is community college or Ivy League material, but the new rules cap the costs at the equivalent of a University of Illinois education.

This change will eliminate some of the fighting over whether a child should attend a more expensive or less expensive institution. Of course, parents and children can choose what kind of education they want to provide for their children; but, if they cannot come to agreement, the University of Illinois benchmarks are now the maximums for tuition, fees, housing and meals.

Section 513(f) requires the child to sign all consents necessary to allow a supporting parent to have access to the child’s academic transcripts, records and grade reports. If the consents are not signed, the supporting parent may be entitled to a modification or termination of the obligations.  There is an exception for circumstances in which the child’s safety would be jeopardized by the provision of the information. This is a good, common sense change, as any parent paying for their children’s college should know how their children are doing academically.

Section 513(g) now provides for the termination of the parents’ obligation to pay college expenses if the child fails to maintain a cumulative “C” grade point average. There is an exception for poor grades caused by serious illness or other good cause.  Additional termination provisions include the completion of a bachelor’s degree or marriage. Again, these are common sense rules that should eliminate some of the issues that parents have previously had to litigate about.

Under Section 513, the child’s ability to contribute to his or her own college expenses has always been part of the consideration, in addition to the parents’ abilities. The new Section 513(h) provides that a 529 plan or other college savings plan is considered to be a resource of the child., eliminating any room for disagreement or uncertainty.

In determining the allocation of the expenses, section 513(j) directs the court to consider specific factors, most of which were left unchanged. However, in reviewing the resources of the parties, the statute has been rewritten to direct the court to consider the present and future financial resources of both parties to meet their needs, including, but not limited to, savings for retirement. The future financial prospects of the parents was often considered without this change, but now it is codified as part of the statutory rules.

The changes to Section 513 of the IMDMA make sense for the most part and are intended to eliminate some of the uncertainty and areas that parents have previously fought over. Time will tell whether the changes will reduce litigation over college expenses. In some cases, the changes will limit determinations that might otherwise have been made. As in every area of divorce law, the ability to agree and get along for the benefit of the children is always the best option, but the rules need to make sense and provide some certainty when there is disagreement. These new rules tend to accomplish that end.

Carolyn D. Jansons
Drendel & Jansons Law Group
111 Flinn Street
Batavia, IL 60510
630-406-6179 fax
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