Courts have broad discretion in ordering postsecondary educational support in Washington family law cases. Washington law sets out a number of factors courts should consider, including the parent’s expectations for the child, the child’s aptitude, the nature of the education sought, and the parents’ level of education. RCW 26.19.090(2). If the court considers the factors, it does not abuse its discretion in awarding postsecondary educational support.
A Washington appeals court recently considered whether a trial court abused its discretion in modifying an order for postsecondary educational support. The father had obtained modification of child support through default after the mother did not appear or respond to his petition. The modified child support order required the mother to pay for postsecondary educational support and 52% of the son’s uncovered medical expenses. She was also required to maintain a life insurance policy. The order allowed either parent to petition for modification as long as the son was enrolled full time in school until the age of 24.
The mother subsequently moved to reduce her child support obligation. The husband moved to dismiss, arguing that there was not a substantial change in circumstances to justify the modification. The appeals court noted, however, that the default order had provided for modification. The court considered the financial evidence and how the parties expected their son’s college to be funded. The court lowered the postsecondary support payment and eliminated the obligation to pay uncovered medical expenses and maintain life insurance. The court also ordered all future postsecondary support payments be made to the son. The father appealed.
The appeals court found the trial court had explicitly considered the parties’ financial declarations, the education of the mother, and the education of the mother’s other children. The trial court heard evidence regarding the parties’ educational plans for their son, his aptitude, the anticipated educational expenses, and the son’s own ability to pay for those expenses.
The father argued the trial court had improper bias against postsecondary educational support. The appeals court noted, however, that the trial court did not eliminate the obligation or even give the mother the full amount of the reduction she requested. Furthermore, the reductions did not take effect until after the end of the current school year, limiting the potential hardship on the father and son.
The court also rejected the father’s other arguments and affirmed the trial court’s order.
As this case shows, a trial court has the discretion to order postsecondary educational support if it properly considers the relevant factors. The court does not have to issue written findings of fact or conclusions of law. Although postsecondary educational support may not always be appropriate, it is appropriate in some cases. If you are facing divorce or child support issues, an experienced Washington child support attorney can assist you. Call Blair & Kim, PLLC at (206) 622-6562 or contact us online to talk about your case.
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