Court case examines requirement for divorced parents to pay college costs

By Kevin Beese Staff Reporter

A case in DuPage County Circuit Court may determine if divorced parents in Illinois have to pay college tuition costs and if so, should they should get a say in their child’s college choice.

In some cases, like the DuPage case of Yakich v. Aulds, a divorced parent can be ordered to pay for college costs despite not having any input in the college-selection process.

The DuPage County case, which was ruled on by the Illinois Supreme Court last week  (Oct. 24), advanced to the high court after a DuPage judge last year noted that because married parents are not yoked with the same burden, he was finding the collage-payment requirement in the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act unconstitutional.

The case stems from the DuPage divorce case of Charles Yakich and Rosemary Aulds. Yakich balked at the court order to pay 40 percent of their daughter’s schooling when he had no say in the school selection and sought to have the college payments portion of the Marriage Act declared unconstitutional.

He said he would have paid all of their daughter’s college costs if she would go to a school offering a degree in her chosen field of marine biology instead of a “party school.”

Dylan Yakich and her mother had determined she would attend Florida Gulf Coast University despite it not offering a degree in marine biology, Charles Yakich said.

He contends that the school-payment requirement in the Marriage Act is not fair because married parents are not held to the same standard. Also, because married parents, in most cases, hold the purse strings for college education, they get a say in where their student goes to school, Charles Yakich contends.

Illinois Supreme Court justices ruled Oct. 24 that DuPage Judge Thomas Else overstepped his bounds in such a ruling and vacated his decision.

Supreme Court Justice Thomas Kilbride said that the lower court committed a “serious error” in not applying the Supreme Court ruling from 40 years ago upholding relevant sections of the Marriage Act.

“Our circuit and appellate courts are bound to apply this court’s precedent to the facts of the case before them,” Kilbride wrote in the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision.

“When this court ‘has declared the law on any point, it alone can override and modify its previous opinion, and the lower tribunals are bound by such decision and it is the duty of such lower tribunals to follow such decisions in similar cases,’” Kilbride said in reiterating a 2016 Supreme Court opinion.

The Supreme Court justices said that “because the trial court may not overrule prior precedents of this court, we are compelled to vacate” the DuPage judge’s 2018 ruling that the college-payment section of the Marriage Act was unconstitutional.

The case now returns to DuPage Circuit Court for reconsideration with the college-payment section included in deliberation.

DuPage Judge Else had ruled that the Supreme Court ruling 40 years ago “presumes that never married or divorced couples are less normal, and less likely to provide post-secondary education for their offspring than couples who are married, or single parents.”

“While this may have been true in 1978, there is no basis for such a conclusion today,” Else said in his ruling.