Spring in Western Washington is a time for rain, tulips, planting gardens, and planning for summer vacation. It is also a time for unmarried parents of high-school aged children (especially seniors in high school) to consider whether they will be looking to their child’s other parent for help paying for college or technical school. Some parents are surprised to discover that they can’t wait until fall, when their kids will actually start school, to deal with how their child’s postsecondary education will be paid for. Waiting for fall may be too late!
In most cases postsecondary child support is not included in the original order of child support, and it is instead reserved (or not addressed at all) for parties to deal with at a later date. Importantly, the later date must be prior to the end of the current order of child support. Most orders of child support terminate when the child turns eighteen or graduates from high school whichever is later. Parents should check their orders of child support to see when their order terminates.
It is important to note that postsecondary child support is not mandatory. Courts may refuse to order post-secondary support based on the circumstances of the child or the parents. When deciding whether to order postsecondary support courts look to RCW 26.19.090. This statute sets forth the standards for postsecondary educational support awards. The court in these cases must determine whether the child is still dependent on the parents. If the child is still dependent on the parents, the court is to determine whether to award postsecondary support, how much to award, and for how long support should be provided based upon the following factors:
- The age of the child
- The child’s needs
- The expectations of the parties for their children when the parents were together
- The child’s prospects, desires, aptitudes, abilities, or disabilities
- The nature of postsecondary education sought
- The parents’ level of education, standard of living, current and future resources
- The amount and type of support the child would have been afforded if the parents had stayed together
If the court does order postsecondary support, there are continuing obligations of the child for him or her to continue to receive postsecondary support. RCW 26.19.090(3) requires the child enroll in an accredited academic or vocational school, and must be actively pursuing a course of study commensurate with the child’s career goals. The child must maintain good academic standing as defined by the school they attend. If the child does not fulfill these obligations postsecondary educational support is suspended. In addition to the above, the child must make their academic records available to both parents. Unless the child has mental, physical or emotional disabilities, postsecondary educational support terminates when the child turns twenty-three, or graduates.
If your order of child support is like many others in Washington, and is set to expire when your child graduates high school, and if you plan to seek postsecondary child support it is important that you act before your current order of child support expires. Please contact us if you would like to speak with a Seattle family law attorney.