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Illinois Supreme Court to Consider Constitutionality of Statute Covering Kids’ College Expenses in Divorce Cases

college graduation hat with diploma on top of pile of money

Illinois divorce law includes various rules and procedures as to how child support payments are calculated and apportioned in divorce proceedings. Section 513 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act covers payment obligations for educational expenses. An Illinois court recently determined that the statute was unconstitutional as applied to a particular parent. Read on to learn about the case, and contact an experienced Chicago divorce attorney with any questions about child support or custody.

Illinois law provides for child support for post-high school educational expenses

Section 513(a) provides that a court “may award sums of money out of the property and income of either or both parties or the estate of a deceased parent” for educational expenses of a child. The law allows a court to order parents to pay post-high school educational expenses, as long as they do not exceed the cost of in-state tuition and fees at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) for that year. UIUC costs for a full-time student in the 2017-2018 academic year were around $30,700, and over $35,000 for some programs.

Parent says Section 513(a) is unconstitutional, wins in trial court

After being ordered to pay for his 21-year-old daughter’s college expenses, a father challenged the constitutionality of the statute. He argued that the statute requires divorced parents to pay for college but does not require married parents to do so. It is illegal under the United States Constitution to discriminate based on marital status.

The father argued not that he should not have to pay for his daughter’s college expenses (he was willing to do so), but that he would be forced to do so no matter where she chose to go. Married parents, in contrast, are free to agree to pay for college only if their children attend certain schools. The court agreed that the statute violated the father’s equal protection rights by treating unmarried parents differently and “less normal” than married parents. The court ruled that “if [the father’s] daughter wished to attend what is colloquially described as a ‘party’ school, she would do so on her own.”

Appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court

Under Illinois law, once a statute is declared unconstitutional by a trial court, the case can be directly appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court, bypassing the appellate court. The respondent in this case did so. A ruling on the constitutionality of Section 513 could affect anyone in Illinois in future proceedings dealing with support payments for college from unmarried, divorced, or widowed parents.

If you need help with a family law issue in Illinois, contact the passionate, knowledgeable and effective Chicagoland family law attorneys at Johnson, Westra, Broecker, Whittaker and Newitt at 630-665-9600.

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