Family Law

Children & Divorce – Child Support (High School)

In many states, child support obligations do not extend past either the age of 18 or the child’s graduation from high school.  In Washington, however, a parent can file a petition to continue child support after the child turns age 18 and while the child is enrolled in college or vocational school.  This is known as “postsecondary educational support.”

If you have an existing child support order in place for children under the age of 18, you will notice that there is a provision specifically addressing the issue of postsecondary support.  There have been numerous child support order templates over the years, but the most current Washington state form contains the following standard provision at Section 18:

Oftentimes, parents will elect to check the “Reserved” box.  Checking this box essentially kicks the can down the road, leaving no requirement that either parent be responsible for post-secondary support unless either parent later files a Petition to Modify Child Support before their child graduates from high school or turns age 18, whichever is later. Reserving this provision generally makes sense because the children may be very young at the time the order is entered and the parents do not yet know what their child’s college plans will be.  Nor do the parents know what their own career or financial situation will be when post-secondary support obligations are determined.

If postsecondary support is reserved in your Child Support Order and you would like to establish post-secondary support to help pay the expense of the child’s college or vocational education, you will need to timely file a Petition to Modify Child Support.  (To be clear, you would have to timely petition for a modification even if you checked the box specifying that postsecondary support is “Granted” and the provision indicates that the parents’ obligations will be decided later.)[1]

Modifying your Child Support Order to include post-secondary educational support is not a simple process. Aside from calculating each parents’ income as is ordinarily done with child support awards, there is a lengthy statute that sets forth various factors that must be considered when determining the award of postsecondary support.  Amongst other factors, the Court will consider: (1) the child’s needs; (2) the expectations of the parties for their children when the parents were together; (3) the child’s prospects, desires, aptitudes, abilities, or disabilities; and (4) the nature of the postsecondary education sought.[2]

There are other requirements that apply when post-secondary support is ordered.  For instance, the statute mandates that in order for each parent to be obligated to pay post-secondary support, “[t]he child must enroll in an accredited academic or vocational school, must be actively pursuing a course of study commensurate with the child’s vocational goals, and must be in good academic standing as defined by the institution.”[3]  Likewise, the end date for postsecondary support will be the child’s 23rd birthday “except for exceptional circumstances, such as mental, physical, or emotional disabilities.”[4]

Establishing postsecondary support for a child who will be attending college can be a challenging process, especially if there are other, minor children still receiving child support.  At Lasher Holzapfel Sperry & Ebberson PLLC, the family law attorneys are well versed in handling these matters.