The short answer is no. There are laws that require divorced parents to contribute to a child’s college tuition expenses, but that doesn’t mean that a child can sue his or her parents to pay. There are no laws that require married parents (those without a case in domestic relations court) to contribute to tuition.
Children Don’t Have Standing To Sue Their Parents For Tuition
Standing is the ability to bring an issue before the court. Typically, to have standing, you must have suffered some form of harm (think dog bite, slip and fall, etc.) or have some affected interest. You need some way to say to the court “I’ve been wronged in a way that you can address and I want you to address it!”
The problem, unfortunately, is that the Illinois legislature has denied a child’s standing in this instance. In the January 2016 overhaul of Illinois’ Educational Expenses For A Non-Minor Child statute, the legislature included language expressly stating that “the child is not a third party beneficiary to the settlement agreement or judgment…”
If a child is not a third party beneficiary, he or she cannot sue under the divorce judgment (AKA divorce decree). A child can’t go to court, show the judge the marital settlement agreement and say “my parents agreed to do this, they aren’t doing it, and I want you to order them to pay for my tuition.” If a child is not a beneficiary, that means that he or she does not have an assertable interest that has been affected, that means he or she doesn’t have standing and thus cannot sue.
What if there is no divorce decree and the case is pending at the time the child enrolls in college? A child still can’t sue. He or she is not a party to the case and there is not a statute that permits the child to sue his or her married parents to pay for college.
What Can Children Do To Force Their Parents To Pay For College?
Like everything else on this website, this is not legal advice, but instead something of an intellectual exercise. If I’m a minor child (who is also a practicing divorce attorney and thus familiar with the nuances of the law… perhaps like a legal Doogie Howser), I would work with the appointed child representative, child attorney, or guardian ad litem to bring the issue before the court prior to settlement. Here’s the rub: a child can’t move to have any of those attorneys appointed. It has to be done by the parents or the court’s own motion, and there’s nothing the child can do to get in front of the judge and request the appointment.
As always, we are happy to talk more about this or your case. Feel free to contact my office to see how we can help.