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Cook County Court Strikes Down College Expense Law

 Posted on May 23, 2018 in College Expenses

DuPage County family law attorneyA 40-year-old law in Illinois gives the court the authority to compel divorced parents to contribute to their child’s college expenses. We have discussed this law in a number of posts on this blog. Earlier this month, however, a judge in Cook County issued a ruling that found the law to be unconstitutional.

The Case in Question

In 2016, a divorced woman filed a petition asking the court to force her ex-husband to contribute to their 21-year-old daughter’s college expenses. The court used the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (IMDMA) to determine that each parent was required to pay 40 percent of the daughter’s expenses and that the daughter was responsible for 20 percent through grants, scholarships, or a job. The daughter reportedly did not do anything to cover her portion, and her mother covered the difference.

The former husband filed a motion to terminate his obligation based, in part, on his daughter’s noncompliance, but the court refused. He filed a second motion on constitutional grounds in 2017.

The man contended that the law requiring divorced parents to help pay for their child’s education was flawed in several ways. First, the law contains no provisions that allow for the parents to have input on the child’s choice of school. (Parental responsibility concerns regarding education typically apply only to minor children.) Next, and perhaps most importantly, the petition stated that the law created two different classes of parents—married parents and divorced or unmarried parents—with unequal rights.

Differences of Opinion

The scenario that led to the petition went like this, according to court documents: The daughter had a specific interest in marine biology—an interest fully supported by her father. He reportedly paid for “many dive excursions” in exotic locations and was willing to pay for her entire college bill if she pursued a marine biology degree at certain schools in California or Hawaii. Instead, the daughter and her mother decided that the young woman would attend a Florida school that did not offer marine biology as a major.

The man’s petition claimed that if he and his wife were still married, he would have had the freedom to refuse to pay for his daughter to attend what he considered a “party school.” Because they were divorced, he claimed that he did not have such freedom or even any input regarding how his money would be spent.

A Potential Landmark Ruling

The ruling was issued by Cook County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Else. Else held that the man was denied equal protection under the law. The relevant provisions have been challenged before, including at the Illinois Supreme Court level in 1978. Else’s ruling acknowledged this but said that the standard used back then was no longer applicable. At the time, the state Supreme Court determined that never-married and divorced parents were less likely to provide for their children’s college expenses than married parents were. “While this may have been true in 1978, there is no basis for such a conclusion today,” Else wrote.

Else also acknowledged that the man was not looking to avoid financial responsibility. Instead, he was simply asking to be a part of the decision-making process, just as he would have been if he and the student’s mother were still married. The judge vacated the previous order and ruled the provisions of the law to be unconstitutional.

For now, the ruling applies only to this case, and the law remains on the books. This will only change if the decision is appealed and is ruled on by the Illinois Supreme Court.

Contact Us for Help

If you have been required to contribute to your child’s college expenses and have questions about the validity of your order, contact an experienced DuPage County family law attorney. Call 630-352-2240 for a free consultation at Pesce Law Group, P.C. today.


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