Divorcing Parties’ Guide to Recent Changes to IMDMA regarding College Expenses

Governor Rauner has signed P.A. 99-90, rewriting the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of MarriageHiRes Act (IMDMA), 750 ILCS 5/101 effective January 1, 2016. There are several revisions that will affect those divorcing this year and in years to come. For parties with children, an important rewritten provision to consider is section 513, which addresses contribution to children’s college expenses.  Currently, under section 513 of the IMDMA, there are no requirements for requesting financial aid, there is no mandated payment of college entrance exams and prep courses, there are no limitations or caps on the cost of where a child can attend college, there is no statutorily mandated definition of college expenses and a child was not required to maintain a certain grade point average.  Under the rewritten provision, however, the following changes will now be in effect:

FASFA and Applications. The court can now require both parties and the child to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA) regardless of whether an award for educational expenses of the child has been made. Further, the court can require the parties to pay for the child’s entrance exams and even a course to prepare for such an exam. The court may require the parties to provide funds for the child’s college applications, for up to 5 colleges. These provisions are all new and will aid parents and their children in reducing college expenses and clarifying when it is appropriate or necessary for parent’s to chip in for pre-college expenses.

U of I Sets the Standard. College education expenses are now capped at what is charged at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana unless good cause is shown or, of course, the parties otherwise agree. Presumably, if a party or both parties are alumni of a particular college, or if the child has exhibited a proclivity for a certain college, the court will consider that in ordering contribution. Of course, the court will look to the resources of the parties and the child when making such a determination.

College Expenses Broadened. When determining college expenses, courts generally ordered parties to pay for tuition, room and board and potentially travel expenses. The new act specifically considers the child’s medical and dental insurance as a reasonable expense to be paid by the parties.

Burden on Student. Two other new provisions put a burden on the child that did not previously exist. The court’s authority to order either parent to contribute to college expenses terminates if the child fails to maintain a “C” average, except in the case of serious illness or other good cause shown. In cases where one party is seeking contribution from an uncooperative parent, it is important to keep this in mind and be sure the child understands the ramifications of falling below such an average. In that same vein, the child must release his or her academic records to any parent who is financially obligated to provide contribution. So there will be no hiding from mom or dad that grades have slipped.

While the new law has not yet taken effect, many questions/concerns arise for divorcing families.  For instance, what about a family where child #1 went to an expensive out of state private school and child #2 wants to attend the same or similar school.  Unless the parents agree, the second child could be limited to attending a school that costs the same or less than the U of I, unless good cause is shown, which meaning remains unclear.  If you have a previously entered judgment which addressed college, you may want to consult with your attorney to understand how this new provision of the IMDMA may affect your situation.

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Jacqueline Stephens Breisch

About Jacqueline Stephens Breisch

Jacqueline has focused her practice solely in the field of family law since 2010. A skilled negotiator, Ms. Breisch uses her considerable litigation experience when settlement is not in her clients’ best interests. Ms. Breisch understands that as social norms continue to change and family dynamics become increasingly complex, so does the divorce process and the aftermath. Ms. Breisch is passionate about using her expertise to ensure the best results for her clients as well as their children.

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