Divorce, custody & college: how tuition expenses are split

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For many parents, part of raising a child includes saving for and covering their college tuition expenses. After a divorce, this responsibility doesn’t go away, but it does become more complicated. Which parent is responsible for covering college tuition, or if it’s divided, how is it split up?

Under Illinois Law, parents can be directed by the Illinois Courts to pay child support for educational expenses, even after the child turns 18. There are four factors the courts take into consideration when determining how to order educational expenses. They are:

  • each parent’s financial situation
  • the standard of living the child would have had if the parents did not get divorced
  • the child’s financial resources, and
  • the child's academic performance.

Things get complicated if one parent isn’t willing to pay for education, or has different views on the educational plan the child should follow. Let’s assume both you and your former spouse are invested in your child’s well-being and long-term education. If that’s the case, here’s how to go about determining how tuition expenses are split.

Find the right attorney

First, find an attorney who understands and is looking out for your child’s best interests. This will help ensure your child’s education isn’t put at risk because of a disagreement between you and your ex. A good attorney will listen to your concerns about your child’s education and make the topic a priority during the divorce. They’ll also help you go through some of these steps.

Outline Your Long-Term Educational Plans for Your Child In Writing

Laying out your plans for your child’s education can help reveal areas where you and your spouse disagree, making them easier to talk through. If you want your child to go to a four-year college, state that explicitly. If you’re open to paying for out-of-state tuition, or if you only want to fund an in-state education, write that down too. From here, you can talk through a solution that works for both parties. Of course, depending on the age of your child, their college wishes will play a factor.

Organize and Document Your Financial Situation Clearly

Having your finances clearly documented will help determine realistically how much each parent can afford. It's essential to organize your own finances in great detail before beginning divorce proceedings to make sure your individual situation is characterized appropriately in negotiations. Our Guide to Organizing Your Finances Before Divorce can help make the process easy.


Don’t Forget Life Insurance

Finally, make sure your divorce decree covers life insurance and disability insurance that covers the total for all of your share of college expenses. If something happens to you or your ex, you don’t want your child’s education to suffer.

In many cases, parents can come to an agreement about their child’s education expenses without going to court. If this is not the case, a judge will review each parent’s income, work history, assets, and debts. The judge will also look at your child’s education and extracurricular history and the current housing situation of both parents. Finally, he or she will make a decision on how to split education costs in a way that will be best suited for both parents and the child.

Your divorce decree should lay out who will pay for everything related to college preparation and college. This includes things like standardized course prep, test fees, admission fees, college visit costs, housing, tuition, meal expenses, and any other costs. Maybe one parent will pay tuition, while the other pays for room and board. Or one will cover books, while the other covers a meal plan. The more explicitly costs are laid out, the less likely you are to fight about it when the time comes for your child to go off to school.