Many divorces are settled with the understanding that each parent’s contribution to the payment of the minor children’s college education expenses will be determined at the time each child is ready to attend college. More often than not, trial courts have expressed the opinion that college education expenses should be based upon the annual cost for tuition, room, board, books, transportation to and from school, registration fees, medical expenses, and living expenses, using the average annual costs for a state school, such as the University of Illinois, Illinois State University, or Northern Illinois University. So who pays for college?
The financial contribution to a minor child’s education expenses by the non-custodial parent has become more complicated when either mother or father has remarried.
One of the factors a court is required to consider in determining the financial contribution to college education expenses is the financial resources available to both parents. When mom or dad remarries and files a joint tax return with his or her new spouse, the new spouse resents being dragged into the dispute, and often times objects to supplying joint tax returns based upon privacy issues. For years, the case law in Illinois has favored the proposition that income from the new spouse is irrelevant for purposes of determining the contribution to college education expenses, and therefore joint tax returns oftentimes did not have to be produced.
The current case law shows that Illinois courts have begun to change their interpretation of Illinois law. In a recent case called, In Re the Marriage of Linda Street and Daniel Street, the Illinois Appellate Court wrote that “the traditional rule had been that the financial assets of the current spouse are not relevant in making a support determination…; however, there is clearly a current trend in the case law moving away from the traditional rule of law on this issue.” The current trend which Illinois courts have been following more often is that the financial resources of mom and dad for purposes of determining each parent’s contribution to the college education expenses of their minor child or children also requires the court to take into account the income of that parent’s current spouse. Accordingly, if dad is the noncustodial parent earning $150,000.00 per year and marries his new spouse who is also earning $150,000.00, both incomes are to be considered by the court when it makes its determination as to how much money dad should contribute to the college education expenses for his minor child or children. This new trend in the case law is based upon the fact that both parties realistically pool their resources with those of their second spouses, resulting in their assets and liabilities being substantially intertwined. It is for this reason that the income of the new spouse is discoverable and reviewable by the court when determining each parent’s contribution to college education expenses. A final point which may offer solace to the new spouse is that the new spouse is not obligated to pay for his step-child’s education, but to the extent that the new spouse contributes to the expenses which would otherwise be paid by the parent, the new spouse’s income and assets are relevant.
In summary, be advised that once a parent with college-age children remarries and seeks contribution to college education expenses, then the income and assets of her new spouse and her former husband’s new spouse are relevant in helping the court determine each parent’s contribution to the children’s college education expenses.
Contact the Law Offices of Michael P. Doman, Ltd. today!