College Expenses and Single Moms After Divorce
By: M. Scott Gordon
If you have been a stay-at-home mom during your marriage but will soon be returning to work in the Chicago area because you are getting divorced, it is never too soon to begin thinking about college expenses for your child.
Most courts will require that single moms contribute to the child’s college expenses. This is particularly true for single parents in Illinois now that the state has changed the way it approaches issues of child custody (now known as Allocation of Parental Responsibilities) and visitation (now known as parenting time). What should lower-earning, soon-to-be-single parents consider with regard to the child’s college expenses when going through a divorce?
Think About College Expenses Early
For many couples thinking about divorce in the Chicago area, college expenses are not the first order of concern. Indeed, many individuals are thinking about property distribution, spousal maintenance, parental responsibilities, and child support. In particular, if there are young children from the marriage and you are focused on financial issues concerning your children’s well-being and upbringing now, you may not be thinking about college expenses down the road. However, as the article emphasizes, it is essential to take college costs and expenses into account at the time of your divorce—even if your children are not yet in elementary school.
What do you need to do in order to account for college expenses even when your children are not anywhere near the age of a college student? One option is to “reserve” a future determination by the court about your child’s college expenses, which is the default option. To be clear, when it comes time for the child to submit college applications, and to pay for tuition and room and board, the parties can return to court to get an order for the child’s college expenses. But simply reserving the issue only “kicks the can” down the road.
At the same time, the court can make provision for educational expenses of a non-minor child. For instance, under Illinois law, the court can order the parents to establish an account “for the child’s post-secondary education, that is an account in a state tuition program under Section 529 of the Internal Revenue Code, or that is some other college savings plan.” That account then becomes the property of the child.
In Most Cases, Both Parents Must Contribute to College Expenses
You may have heard that Illinois now shifts the way in which it determines the amount of child support owed in the state by switching to an “income shares” model. On a related note, parents who used to be considered “custodial” parents prior to the amendments to the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (IMDMA) will also contribute to the financial needs of the child. While the court will take into account differences in income and earning potential between the parents, the new “income shares” model focuses on how both parents can contribute.
Similarly, both parents should anticipate being responsible—at least in part—for contributing to their children’s college expenses. Even if one of the parents used to be a stay-at-home parent and earns less than the parent who was the primary earner during the marriage, the court will expect both parties to contribute in some capacity to the educational expenses of their children.
Contact a Chicago College Expenses Lawyer