If you want your former spouse to share in the expense of your child’s post-high school education, do not wait to file your request.  Illinois law provides that the establishment of an obligation to pay postsecondary educational expenses under Section 513 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (IMDMA) is retroactive only to the date of the filling a petition, while the right to enforce a prior obligation to pay may be enforced either before or after the obligation is incurred.

At the time of divorce, parents of young children or children who have not begun the college application process cannot predict a child’s post-high school plans or what the state of their finances will be when the time for college arrives. Marital Settlement Agreements rarely include a specific allocation of expenses. Most often, an agreement may state that the parties agree to contribute to college consistent with Section 513 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, or that the issue of college contribution pursuant to Section 513 is reserved. On rare occasions, an agreement may not reference college contribution at all. To establish an enforceable allocation of expenses between you, your spouse, and at times, your child, you will need a court order that specifically identifies and allocates these post-high school obligations. An experienced Illinois family law attorney from Beermann LLP may review your agreement and assist you with next steps.

Make a Plan

When your child starts the application process summer of junior or fall of senior year, a plan should exist regarding your child’s post-secondary education. Under Illinois law, your child’s educational path may include college, vocational, professional, or other training after high school graduation to qualify for possible contribution from either or both divorced parents. With your child’s post high school plan in mind, you and your former spouse should consider the financial aspects of that plan. Begin to evaluate your options as soon as possible. Waiting to address the issue of college contribution until after your child is committed to a certain school may lead to confusion and conflict.

It is favorable to begin the college conversation early. Former spouses, if possible, should communicate expectations with one another to set the framework of the realistic options for the child given your child’s academic performance and available financial resources. This communication may lead to an agreement that should be memorialized in a court order to ensure enforceability.

Action Required

Absent an agreement, the Court will make a determination upon the filing of a Petition for Contribution to College Expenses.  It may take several months before the Court addresses the Petition and determines how college expenses may be allocated. Filing a Petition for Contribution to College Expenses well in advance of the due date of that first tuition payment is recommended even if you have a positive co-parent relationship. While the Petition is pending, former spouses may attempt to reach an agreement on their own or attend private mediation on the issue of college contribution. The filed Petition preserves your rights in court if necessary and may be withdrawn at any time should an agreement be reached, and a court order entered.

Navigating post-high school options and how the expenses for your child shall be allocated is often challenging post-divorce. We are here to help.


Brooke I. Golding, Partner

For more information on Ms. Golding, please visit: https://www.beermannlaw.com/team/brooke-i-golding.