Once children grow up and become legal adults, questions arise surrounding how much financial support do divorced parents need to provide. A ruling from the DuPage County Circuit Court May 2018 seemed to limit the financial responsibility that divorced parents may have when it comes to paying for college.

After more than a year of legal limbo, the Illinois Supreme Court has weighed in. In a unanimous decision, the court overruled that previous decision, thereby reaffirming an Illinois Supreme Court decision dating back to 1978.

What is Illinois’s Section 513 law?

The duty of divorced parents to finance educational expenses falls under Section 513 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act. The law allows courts to award money for education expenses out of the property and/or income of either or both spouses.

Furthermore, the law allows these payments to continue until the student’s 23rd birthday unless a party can demonstrate a good reason to continue the payments longer. The absolute latest education expenses may be covered, for any reason, is the child’s 25th birthday.

An unconstitutional imposition on divorced parents?

The statute, which has been on the books for over 40 years, was challenged in 2016. The case in question, Yakich v. Aulds, involved two divorced parents paying for their child’s college expenses. Both parents were initially required to finance 40% of the college costs, with the child responsible for the remaining 20% under Section 513.

However, the father objected to the child’s school choice. He argued that it was a “party school” and didn’t have the academic program in the child’s chosen field.

The father was not objecting to paying for college expenses. He did offer to pay for college costs if the child transferred to a school with better academics and a marine biology program.

Judge Thomas A. Else determined that the law was unconstitutional because it violated divorced parents’ equal protection rights under the U.S. Constitution. The father, in this case, was not permitted to have any say in his child’s college decisions. If he and his wife were still married, he would have had input into his child’s college decision.

“The trial court committed serious error”

The 2018 outcome was appealed by the mother and wound up in the Illinois Supreme Court. There, the 7-member panel unanimously overruled the Circuit Court’s ruling. There is a longstanding precedent that circuit courts must adhere to Illinois Supreme Court rulings.

It is important to note that the justices did not weigh in on the merits of the case. Instead, regardless of how society has changed since the 1978 Supreme Court ruling, circuit judges do not have the authority to overrule an Illinois Supreme Court ruling.

The case has been sent back to the DuPage county court. The questions surrounding how much say, if any, divorced parents have over their children’s college choices remain in flux. For the time being, it seems that divorced parents are going to be obligated to chip in, even if they disagree with their children’s educational choices.