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Is college tuition included in child support?

Preparing a child for college can be hectic, but exciting. Parents are proud to see their children pursue higher education, and children look forward to gaining more independence.

However, this endeavor can also be expensive for families. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average cost of college tuition at a four-year public university was $27,357 in 2018. That price is only rising with each year as well.

This high price is often why many parents across the country help their children pay for their college expenses, but calculating these contributions can be complex – especially if a student’s parents are divorced.

As a new school year begins, many parents often ask: do their child support obligations require them to help pay their child’s tuition?

What do a parent’s child support obligations include?

Noncustodial parents generally pay child support for the care of minor children. These monthly payments help to pay for:

  • The child’s healthcare or medical expenses
  • General childcare expenses
  • Costs for extracurricular activities

Once their child is no longer a minor – or once they turn 18 – the parent’s obligation to pay child support often ends. However, that is not always the case if children pursue higher education.

Parents might still be responsible for tuition too

The Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act directly addresses college expenses – and a parent’s obligation to pay them. Essentially, the law states that parents could be accountable to pay a child’s college expenses and that this is a matter parents should address in divorce.

There are generally two situations parents might face:

  1. If parents established how they would pay – or not pay – for their child’s college expenses in their divorce decree or child support order, then they can follow the guidelines they agreed to.
  2. If parents did not address college expenses in their original order, the custodial parent can petition for non-minor support to contribute to their child’s college expenses. In some cases, Illinois family courts might order parents to pay college expenses equitably.

Many parents wish to help their children succeed in higher education, but it is still critical that parents understand their potential obligations under this law.