Under Washington law, a parent must pay child support until the child turns 18 or graduates from high school, whichever occurs later. Once that child has graduated, however, he or she may wish to go on to college. It can be difficult for parents in an intact marriage to determine how to pay for college expenses for their child; being divorced and trying to figure out responsibilities for these costs can be even more difficult for all parties involved.

Washington law provides that a child support order can extend beyond the child’s 18th birthday to cover college expenses, but it is neither guaranteed nor automatic. If the parties’ divorce judgment or parentage order or child support order does not address the payment of college expenses, a parent will have to file a petition with the court asking for an order to compel the other parent to pay for all or some of the child’s college expenses. Such a petition must be filed prior to high school graduation or the child’s eighteenth birthday, whichever occurs last.

In considering whether to order post-secondary education expenses (and for how long the parent is responsible for such expenses), a court must consider a number of different factors, including whether the child is still dependent on his or her parents for the reasonable necessities of life. Other factors include the child’s age and needs, the expectations of the child when the parents were still together, the nature of the postsecondary education expenses sought, and the parents’ standard of living, educational level, and financial resources. If the court orders the payment of college expenses, the child has certain responsibilities, as well. The child must make all grades and educational records available to both parents, and the payments are to go directly to the school, if feasible. Otherwise, the payments can go to the child or the other parent, depending on the situation. Finally, an order for payment of postsecondary college expenses should not go beyond the child’s 23rd birthday, unless there are exceptional circumstances, such as if the child were disabled.

The Washington divorce lawyers at Pacific Northwest Family Law are eager to answer your questions and help you understand the consequences of a divorce, including any obligation that you have to pay for your child’s college expenses. As your attorneys, we will focus on how best to represent your interests and achieve the goals that you wish to reach. We have handled countless divorce and family law proceedings over the years, and we will work with you to create the best strategy possible in your case. Call our offices at (360) 926-9112 and learn how we can help you with your Washington divorce, legal separation, or parentage case.