The issue was college education. The parties had four children. The parties’ judgment for dissolution of marriage did not order a specific dollar amount or percentage to be paid by either party. It left the amount to be determined at a later date.

The Judgment required Husband to maintain accounts for each child’s college or trade school expenses. The parties had U.S. savings bonds. The bonds were to be used to pay further college or trade school expenses. After that, each party was to contribute to any remaining college expenses.

Wife spent in excess of $100,000 for the educational expenses of the children. Wife asked Husband to contribute. He would not. Wife filed a petition for Husband to pay his fair share of the additional college expenses. The court granted Wife’s petition. Husband was to contribute his fair share.

Husband appealed. He argued that Wife should not be able to obtain payment from him. She should have filed her petition first, before incurring any expenses. If she wanted him to contribute anything. He said that she could not recover for any expenses she made before she filed in court.

The Trial Court and the Appellate Court both looked back at the Petersen case. That case had a big impact on the issue of payment for college expenses.

In Petersen, the parties had reserved the issue of contribution for college expenses. So, there was no order that either contribute their fair share. The entire issue had been reserved.

Therefore, a parent has to be careful about spending his or her money on college. The parent has to file a petition for contribution from the other parent. That starts the process of the other parent making a contribution.

In this case, the issue had not been reserved. It was different from Petersen’s decision. Here, the divorce Judgment expressly obligated the parties to pay for a trade school, vocational school, college, or university education. That is different from an agreement in which there is a complete reservation of the issue.

In re Marriage of Donnelly, 2015 IL App (1st) 142619

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