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Planning for Your Child’s College Expenses After Divorce

March 22, 2019

Illinois winters have the potential to be quite depressing. We hardly get any sunshine, the days are egregiously short and the cold is nearly unbearable. Thankfully, we are about a month away from spring. It will not be long until the birds are chirping, the trees turn green and the kids get out of school.

Those who are divorced and have a child set to graduate from high school must be mindful of college expenses. The state of Illinois compels parents to provide financial support for their children's college expenses. If you have not been depositing money into a Bright Start or 529 Plan, you could be on the hook for a major financial expenditure in the coming months. Let's take a closer look at what is required of divorced Illinois residents in the context of college expenses.

Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act

Illinois' Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act provides the court with the authority to force divorced parents to pay the entirety or at least a portion of their child's college tuition, room, board and other relevant fees. The details of this law are explained in Section 513 of the Act. The pressing question most divorcees have is what, exactly, are they supposed to do to remain in compliance with the letter of the law? We have the answers.

Start with An Honest Discussion

Sit down with your ex and children to discuss the plan for college. Ask your teen whether he or she would like to go to college, a trade school or transition directly from high school to the workforce. Find out if there is a specific college, university or trade school your loved one has in mind. Look up how much this educational institution costs. Ideally, your or teen will attend a comparably affordable in-state college.

Regardless of the institution he or she has in mind, this is the time to perform research. Determine how much tuition, room, board, textbooks and living expenses will be during the four years of study. Find out if there are any additional fees to plan for. Even joining a fraternity or sorority can result in some unexpected expenses. As a parent planning for your child's college expenses, you deserve to know your child's intentions so you can manage your finances accordingly.

Create a College Savings Plan

Now that you have a general idea of what college will cost, it is time to sit down with your ex and discuss how much each of you will contribute. Determine if your child will take out student loans, hold down a part-time job while studying or contribute some of his or her savings. Perhaps there are some grants or scholarships your son or daughter might qualify for. Go over every last expense of postsecondary education and create a plan to cover those costs. Furthermore, you must decide which parent's income will be used to complete the FAFSA form.

Discussing a college savings plan with your former significant other has the potential to create even more family drama. This is not a time to be emotional, yet money is an inherently emotional topic unless you are absurdly wealthy. If you simply can't reach an agreement, file a motion with the court, requesting that expenses are allocated between the parents and the child. Don't wait until the end of the summer to take the issue to Court. Ideally, if it is necessary to get the Court involved, you should do so in April or May.

Time Is Running Out

The clock is ticking. If you do not plan ahead, or file the motion in the spring and request the court to determine which party pays and how much is paid, there will not be enough time to properly assess each party's finances. The court needs ample time to analyze the costs of the selected educational institution and perform an unbiased ruling to divide the financial burden between parties in a fair manner.

The court's overarching aim is to ensure the cost of college is divided in a manner that guarantees the parents and children still retain a high quality of life. If you are concerned about this legal process, you should know you help is available. Our legal team is here to help you plan for your child's future, protect your savings/investments and safeguard everything you have worked so hard to acquire. Reach out to us today to schedule a consultation.