As many parents of adult children know, most children do not stop needing support (financial, mental, and emotional) when they turn eighteen or graduate from high school. Providing continued emotional or mental support is usually not a point of contention between parents. Whether to provide financial support can be a different story. When the parents of adult children are still married at the time the child reaches the age of majority, the parents usually decide together how much longer they will offer housing, pay for college, and otherwise financially support the child. When the parents are not married at the time the child turns eighteen or graduates (and the current child support order ends), there are often questions about whether to provide support (and how much support) for the adult child. There is also the question of who should contribute to the support.
Sometimes, unmarried parents request that the court determine whether and how much postsecondary support should be provided to the child. A parent must request postsecondary education contribution from the other parent prior to the current child support order ending (usually eighteen or when the child graduates from high school). If a request is made through court action, the court may decide to award post-secondary support, but it is not mandatory.
When considering whether to order support for postsecondary education, the court looks at a number of factors. The court reviews whether the child is still dependent on the parents for the necessities of life. When determining whether and how much postsecondary support to offer, the court looks at a number of things including the child’s needs, expectations of the parents regarding support after high school while the parents were still together, the child’s prospects, hopes, and abilities. Due to the difficulty of ascertaining these without some evidence, it is helpful if soon-to-be adult children can show acceptance letters, wait-list offers, or costs of technical colleges they plan (and can) attend.
If the court orders (or the parties agree) that one or both parents should contribute to the child’s postsecondary support, the child will be required to actually enroll in an accredited academic or vocational school to receive the support. The adult child must also stay in good standing and work towards completion of the schooling. The child also needs to make his or her academic records available to both the parents to continue receiving postsecondary education. When possible, the court will order that payments be made directly to the college or technical school instead of the other parent. When that is not possible, the court may order that the money be paid to the child or the other parent.
Except in the case of exceptional circumstances (ex. mental, physical, or mental disabilities), the postsecondary educational expenses will not be ordered beyond the adult child’s 23rd birthday.
For more information, see RCW 26.19.090. To learn more about postsecondary support and the process by which it can be obtained, you may want to speak with a family law attorney. At Blair & Kim we are prepared to help you with your postsecondary support issues. As mentioned above, there are time limits on when a request for postsecondary education support can be requested, so it is important to speak with an attorney soon if your child support order will be expiring soon.