Under Washington law, courts may order postsecondary support for children in some circumstances, but as a recent case reminds us, it is not automatic. Parents must be sure they understand the child support order and follow any deadlines for filing the petition for postsecondary support. It is important that parents consult with their attorneys before the child turns 18 or graduates from high school. The child support order may require the parent to petition for postsecondary educational support before the child’s high school graduation.
In this case, the child support order stated that support would continue until each child reached the age of 18 or graduated from high school, whichever was later, but not after a child reached the age of 19, except as provided in the paragraph on postsecondary educational support. That paragraph provided that the right to petition for postsecondary support was reserved as long as it was exercised before the child turned 18.
The child had already turned 18 at the time the father filed for postsecondary educational support, but they were still in high school. The court dismissed the petition as untimely, and the father appealed.
On appeal, the father argued that the order extended child support until the later of the child turning 18 or graduating from high school, so the petition was timely because it was filed before the child graduated. The appeals court noted that when the terms of the decree clearly state support will terminate when certain events occur, the superior court does not have authority to grant postsecondary educational support after those events occur. In this case, the child support order required the mother to pay child support until the daughter graduated from high school. The father argued that child support had not terminated when he filed the petition, so it was timely.
The father cited to a previous case, but the appeals court distinguished that case because it had expressly provided the postsecondary support obligation did not terminate when the child turned 18. In this case, however, the order expressly terminated the potential for postsecondary support when the child turned 18.
The court found that the child support order was explicit in requiring the petition to be filed before the child turned 18. The order did not allow an exception if the child was still in high school after she turned 18. The superior court therefore did not have the authority to award postsecondary support and did not err in dismissing the father’s petition.
The appeals court also found that the father’s appeal did not present any debatable issue upon which reasonable minds could differ. The appeal was frivolous, and the mother was therefore entitled to attorney’s fees and costs.
The Washington high-asset divorce attorneys at Blair & Kim, PLLC know the importance of understanding and following the requirements of a child support order. That begins with clear terms in the original order. If you are facing a divorce in Washington, we can assist you. Call us at (206) 622-6562.
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Image: Fred Kuipers