In most divorce cases in Washington, child support comes to an end once a child turns 18. Many parents often wonder what will happen to their children who may soon be turning 18 and have plans to attend college or vocational school.

With the current student loan crisis in the country, it’s nearly impossible for a child to shoulder the cost of a college education. Parents who are divorced may or may not be legally obligated to pay for their child’s college. However, the Tri-Cities family law attorneys can advise them on the next steps after looking at their divorce terms.

What Do I Do If My Child Is Soon Turning 18?

If an Order of Child Support was already given, then the issue of college support for your child may as well have been addressed. But this will depend upon the child’s age when the order was issued.

Nonetheless, any party seeking support for a child’s college education must petition for it before the child turns 18. If you fail to do so, you may be barred from obtaining this kind of support. So it is often upon the divorced parent to move with speed, and talk to a Tri-Cities child support lawyer for advice and guidance.

What Is Post-Secondary Support?

Post-secondary support or post-secondary educational support is a court-ordered payment that may support tuition and costs for a child who wants to attend college, trade school, or vocational school. It may also be seen as “adult support.”

Can A Court Order a Divorced Parent to Pay for A Child’s College Education?

There’s often a question of moral duty when it comes to paying for a child’s college education. Many would even argue that forcing a parent to pay for a child’s college is unfair, while there are parents with intact marriages who, in fact, decide not to pay for their kids’ college.

The courts in Washington often rely on the standards in RCW 26.19.090 and case law to decide if there’s a need for such support. So yes, the courts can order post-secondary support.

What Will the Court Consider When Deciding Whether or Not to Award Post-Secondary Support?

Judges will often consider three factors:

Cost-Benefit Calculation

Here, the judges will determine whether it is worthwhile to pay for the child’s college education.

Parents’ Ability to Pay If They Stayed Married

If the parents were likely to have paid, the more likely they would be ordered to pay. Evidence used here may include a college savings plan and if the parents went to college.

Child’s Academic Performance

If the child is doing well in high school, the judges will likely order post-secondary support.

Who Can Request and Who Pays for Post-Secondary Support in Washington State?

A post-secondary support request is often one parent asking the other for help paying for their child’s college education. This means it is a shared responsibility between the two parents according to their net income.

If you are the parent with the child’s primary care, you’re always the person to request this support on behalf of the child. In some cases, the non-primary care parent can request support, but it is highly unprecedented.

The courts will assume the primary care parent will support the child without being ordered. However, Washington case law allows courts to order both parents to pay for their child’s college education.

What Does the Court Consider in Determining a Parent’s Payments?

The decision to order a divorced parent to pay for a child’s college education will depend on several factors. These factors include:

  • The child’s age
  • The child’s abilities, disabilities, desires
  • Both parents living conditions, resources, and education
  • The child’s financial needs
  • The type of education the child is willing to pursue
  • The kind of financial support the child would have had if the parents weren’t divorced
  • The child’s independent resources
  • Parent’s income and assets

Learn more about how the court will likely decide in your case today by speaking to a Tri-Cities child support attorney for a detailed analysis of your case.

Are There Any Conditions for A Post-Secondary Parental Obligation?

Yes, there may be conditions that must be met for post-secondary child support to remain in effect. Some of them may include:

  • The child must be admitted to an accredited institution
  • The child must give full access of their academic records and grades to the parents
  • The support ends when the full course term is completed
  • The child must retain a good academic standing
  • Payment runs until the child turns 23 years old

Support will be automatically suspended if the child fails to fulfill these responsibilities.

Who Will Pay If the Child Extends College Beyond the Four Years?

Some agreements may have a time limit and other qualifications like maintaining a B average. But issues like COVID may affect how your child progresses and may, in fact, extend the 4-year term. The family court is a place of equity and will listen to both sides before striking a balance.

If such issues arise, you will be better positioned if you talk to a Tri-Cities child support attorney for guidance. The family lawyer will also negotiate on your behalf if your child is past 23 years of age but hasn’t completed school due to COVID or other issues.

Compassionate Family Lawyers Helping Your Child Achieve Their Educational Dreams

The child support laws in Washington are layered and can be confusing sometimes. But this shouldn’t stop you from helping your child pursue the kind of future they want. A family attorney can help you navigate the legal intricacies involved when divorced and would wish your child to get a college education without much struggle.

The Washington family attorneys at our law firm are ready to help your child get the post-secondary support they need. Schedule a FREE consultation with us, whether in Richland, Walla Walla, or Spokane, and get experienced and skilled legal advice for your family law matter.