High School seniors across the state are busily awaiting ACT/SAT results and gathering their documentation as they prepare their college applications. It is a stressful time of year that can be made even more stressful for children of divorce who wonder how they are going to pay for the expenses college will present. For this reason, the legislators have made several changes to the law that will go into effect on January 1st, 2016.
The changes made to Section 513 are intended to clarify the responsibilities of divorced parents in regard to college expenses. Section 513 makes it clear that both parents will be responsible for contributing to the post-secondary educational expenses of their children. As with child support obligations, parents are expected to make equitable contributions towards their children’s education.
This begins with providing support for applications and exams. Under Section 513(b), parents are required to provide financial assistance for up to five college applications, one college entrance exam preparation course, as well as two standardized college entrance exams. This was not covered under previous statutes and left many graduating seniors struggling to fund these essential tools towards achieving a post-secondary education. These new provisions are intended to remove the ambiguity for paying for these small, but very important hurdles.
Under the new legislation contained within Section 513(a), parents have the right to terminate their financial obligation to their children’s post-secondary educational expenses when the child reaches the age of 23. The caveat to this is that if the child can show good cause as to why the contribution should continue. Should this be demonstrated, a parent could be obligated to continue contributing until the child reaches the age of 25. When a child reaches the age of 25, parents can no longer be obligated to pay for post-secondary educational expenses.
Of course, the cost of a college education falls within a vast range. Tuition at Harvard is currently $60,000 per year, while tuition at a public, four-year university in America averages $9,000. This creates a vast range of potential responsibility for parents. To ease the burden on parents and to help eliminate arguments in DuPage family law over post-secondary educational choice, the legislature has chosen to cap the cost a parent can be held responsible for. Beginning January 1st, parents can be held responsible for the equivalent undergraduate tuition cost at the University of Illinois. That is roughly $16,000 for the current year. In addition to tuition, the University of Illinois benchmark will be applied to educational fees, housing, and meal expenses.
Further changes include the rights of parents to access their children’s educational records. Under Section 513(f), children are required to sign consent forms granting a supporting parent the access to their academic transcripts, grades, and records related to their educational expenses. Should a child fail to provide these, the supporting parent may petition the court to modify or terminate their support obligation. The legislature has made exceptions to this for exceptional circumstances. Should providing this information put the child’s safety at risk, then the child may petition the court to keep this information from the supporting parent.
One of the most controversial changes can be found within Section 513(g). This allows for a supporting parent to terminate their obligation should a child’s cumulative grade point average fall below a 2.0. In other words, a “C” average on a 4.0 scale. Unless a child can prove that a serious illness was the cause for poor academic performance, a supporting parent may petition the court to terminate their financial obligation. Further, a supporting parent can also petition to eliminate their responsibility should a child get married or upon completion of their bachelor’s degree.
The new law also clarifies the child’s contributions to their educational expenses. Under Section 513(h), 529 plans and other college savings plans are considered to be the resources of the child. This change was intended to eliminate any confusion or disagreement over the allocation of these funds and their role within the overall expense equation. Additionally, Section 513(j) allows the court to consider both the present and future earnings and financial resources of the divorced parents. This includes retirement savings, personal assets, investments, etc. in the past this information was frequently considered by the court, but it is now included within the statute.
Taken together, these changes are intended to remove the confusion and many of the disagreements related to funding a child’s educational career. There may of course be additional considerations and obstacles to account for, however, the changes included within Section 513 have eliminated most of the major points of contention. By clarifying the financial obligation of each parent, these changes will go a long way towards removing the hurdles and obstacles that can arise as children pursue their educational goals.