In Washington State, postsecondary educational support can be ordered to require parents to pay for college for their children. In general, child support obligations end when a child turns eighteen or graduates from high school (whichever occurs later), unless postsecondary educational support is awarded.
When determining whether postsecondary support is required of the parents, the first thing to do is to review the final child support order. If the Court has already established a postsecondary educational support obligation, further Court action is probably unlikely. The parents and the child will have to abide by the postsecondary educational support provision that has been established in the final child support order.
However, when the final child support order sets forth that postsecondary educational support is "reserved" (not addressed), then a petition to modify child support will need to be filed. Reserving postsecondary educational support for a later determination is quite common, unless the child is already in high school at the time the final child support order is entered. Either parent can file a petition to modify the final child support order but it must be done before the child turns eighteen or is no longer enrolled in high school (whichever occurs later).
To qualify for postsecondary support, the adult dependent child must meet certain statutory criteria, such as being enrolled in an accredited academic school and maintain good academic standing. A parent who is obligated to pay for the postsecondary support has the right to all academic records, including grades. In addition, postsecondary support can be suspended if the student does not maintain these requirements or after the child’s twenty-third birthday (unless special circumstances exist).
When the Court is determining an award of postsecondary educational support, it considers the factors in RCW 26.19.090 (2), such as reliance of the child on the parents for the reasonable necessities of life. Other considerations include the age of the child, the child’s needs, the expectations of the parties, the child’s prospects, desires, aptitudes, abilities, or disabilities, as well as many other factors listed below.
Standards for postsecondary educational support awards.
(2) When considering whether to order support for postsecondary educational expenses, the court shall determine whether the child is in fact dependent and is relying upon the parents for the reasonable necessities of life. The court shall exercise its discretion when determining whether and for how long to award postsecondary educational support based upon consideration of factors that include but are not limited to the following: 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 the postsecondary education sought; and the parents' level of education, standard of living, and current and future resources. Also to be considered are the amount and type of support that the child would have been afforded if the parents had stayed together.
Family law litigation can be emotionally difficult and complex. Decisions made about each step of the litigation can affect you for many years. We have decades of experience helping our clients through the difficulty of family law cases, including child support modifications and establishment of post secondary educational support obligations, and can help you through the process. Contact us today at (253) 838 – 3377 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org, to talk about your case.
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