Illinois residents might be surprised to know that there was a law on the books requiring divorced parents to fund their children’s college education. Thanks to a judge in DuPage County, that law may now be unconstitutional. The judge declared the law unconstitutional as part of a recent case that pitted an unmarried father against his daughter who wanted to attend a college he thought was a party school.
According to the Cook County Record, the case involved Charles Yakich and his ex-wife, Rosemary Aulds, along with their daughter, Dylan. When Dylan and her mother decided that she would apply to Florida Gulf Coast University, Charles Yakich objected. Instead, he wanted her to attend a school that offered a degree in marine biology—which was allegedly Dylan’s field of interest.
In 2016, Dylan filed a lawsuit requesting that the court order her father to contribute to her college education. The court agreed and held that each parent should contribute 40%, with Dylan providing the rest.
Mr. Yakich responded with a motion requesting that the judge find the law unconstitutional. He raised an Equal Protection argument, alleging that the law treated divorce parents differently from those who were still married. Under Illinois law, married parents were not required to fund their child’s education. As a result, the law created two classes of children without any rational basis for doing so.
Jude Else in DuPage County agreed with Yakich’s argument. Although the state’s Supreme Court had upheld the law 40 years ago, Judge Else explained that society had changed dramatically in the ensuing four decades. In particular, divorced parents were no longer unusual. There was no reason for a court to assume that divorced parents would treat their children any differently than parents who were still married (or who had never married in the first place). Accordingly, the law no longer had a rational basis and could not survive an Equal Protection challenge.
Although a trial judge has found the law unconstitutional, he does not get the final word. Dylan and her mother could appeal the decision, or someone else could later argue that the law is still constitutional. Ultimately, the case might work its way back up to the Illinois Supreme Court, which might take another look at the law and decide whether they agree with Judge Else. If not, the law will still be constitutional. Interested parents should continue to look for updates since this is unlikely to be the end of the discussion.
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