An Update on Case Law for College Contribution Cases

Under Illinois law (750 ILCS 5/513), a parent can be ordered to contribute to their child’s college contribution, such as tuition, books and fees and room and board. This section authorizes the trial court to make provisions for the education and maintenance of children after they have attained the age of majority. Falat v. Falat, 201 Ill. App. 3d 320, 147 Ill. Dec. 33, 559 N.E.2d 33 (1 Dist. 1990).

The law created a cap for the maximum contribution of tuition, fees, room-and board and other college expenses which is drawn from the costs at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. The child must maintain a C grade average to order payment. The costs as of April 2017 are as follows:

Tuition and Fees

$15,868 - $20,872

Room and Board

$11,308

Books and Supplies

$1,200

Other expenses (i.e. food plan, parking decal)

$2,500

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When deciding whether to require contribution towards post-secondary education, the court must consider the following four factors: (1) the financial resources of both parents; (2) the standard of living the child would have enjoyed if the relationship had not dissolved; (3) the child’s financial resources; and (4) the child’s academic performance. 750 ILCS 5/513(b).

However the court will also look at: the cost of the school, the programs offered at the school, the child’s scholastic aptitude, how the school meets the child’s goals, the benefits the child will receive from attending the school, and whether the parents need to pay for a private school when there are public schools available that are just as good. People ex rel. Sussen v. Keller, 382 Ill. App. 3d 872 (Ill. App. 4th Dist. 2008)

Contributions are often split fifty-fifty. In IRMO Cianchetti the parties were held responsible for their daughters' college expenses, and the father was ordered to pay half of those expenses. He appealed, arguing that the amount was more than he could afford and he should have been allowed to present the testimony of an alleged expert in college expenses and education financing.

The order was upheld on appeal as not being an abuse of discretion; even though the father submitted evidence supporting his position that it would be difficult for him to fit the financial burden into his budget and that the mother was likely in a better financial position than he was, the evidence also showed that the father had previously been able to handle a similar financial burden in child support payments and payments for private high school for the daughters and that those responsibilities were terminated when the daughters became enrolled in college. Despite some evidence to support the father's position, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in ordering the tuition payments. 351 Ill. App. 3d 832 (Ill. App. Ct. 3d Dist. 2004).

In another case, Larsen v. Larsen the husband and wife owned a house and property valued at approximately $200,000, of which husband was awarded 50% and husband and his present wife owned real estate with a net equity of about $40,000. 126 Ill. App. 3d 1072 (Ill. App. Ct. 3d Dist. 1984). The husband had stock in a restaurant in which he invested $20,000 and owned a construction company. However, the husband had outstanding loans. The trial court found it was not against the manifest weight of the evidence to conclude that husband had sufficient property and income to contribute $6,000 toward his daughter’s first year of college.

Lastly another insightful case is In re Marriage of Deike, 381 Ill. App. 3d 620 (Ill. App. Ct. 4th Dist. 2008). The parties had three children during their marriage. Thereafter, a judgment for dissolution of marriage was entered, which incorporated their marital settlement agreement (MSA) that included various payment obligations. The parties each filed multiple petitions for post-dissolution relief.

At the time of the hearing on the petitions, all three children were in college. The trial court ordered the husband to share equally in college expenses, which it defined to include living and other expenses. The husband was no longer required to maintain health insurance for the children, but his request for a decrease in child support was denied. He was held in contempt for his failure to pay the college expenses and child support in a timely manner.

On appeal, the court found no abuse of discretion in the trial court's decision regarding college expenses under 750 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 5/513(b)(1) or child support under 750 Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. 5/510(a)(1), based on the evidence of the husband's finances and voluntary underemployment. The husband did not show a lack of willfulness or an inability to pay court-ordered payments. The contempt was supported by the evidence and the attorney fee award to the wife was proper.