Post Secondary Support Washington State


My Child Is Going to College. What Do I Do?
A common problem parents have is that your children turn 18 and graduate from high school. And  then there’s college, or vo-tech, or community college. In Washington State, the courts can order a parent to contribute to post-secondary support.
What Are The Rules?  It depends. Typically, if you are just starting a divorce, and the children are over 18 when you start, it is too late: the court has lost jurisdiction when they turned 18. (Though I have had some success arguing they are still dependent children, even though they are over 18.)

If you have an order of child support already, unless it states specifically that the parents will pay for post-secondary support, you MUST file an action before they turn 18 and graduate from high school.

What Can They Make Me Pay? The courts have wide discretion to order post-secondary support. Even though in the statute the father’s income and need is a factor, I have seen courts order post-secondary support when the father is making as little as $3,000-3,500 per month.  The courts may or may not order the child to pay part of the cost. If the court orders post-secondary support at all, it will order at least payment for tuition, room and board, lab fees, and books. It can, but does not have to, order a travel allowance; a computer; or other items.
What Kind of Language?  A typical post-secondary support clause looks like this:

Statutes and Case Law:
Statute:  (RCW 26.19.090)

Case Law:
Petitions to establish post-majority support must be filed before the existing support obligation terminates, but, once the petition is filed, it is unnecessary to seek a temporary order preserving the court’s authority if the child turns 18 prior to the final order being entered (Crossland).[This only applies to modifications. In an original divorce action the court has authority to order support for all dependent children regardless of age—see preceding section.]
Balch v. Balch, 75 Wn. App. 776, 779, 880 P.2d 78 (1994), review denied, 126 Wn.2d 1003 (1995).

When deciding issues of post-secondary educational support, the court shall consider 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.” Additional factors may include the educational institution’s placement rate for its graduates.
RCW 26.19.090(2)

A common law duty to support an adult child who is incapable of providing for his or her own care exists independent of dissolution proceedings. This duty is not superseded by subsequent statutory law regarding child support.
Mallen v. Mallen, 4 Wn. App. 185, 187, 480 P.2d 219 (1971);
Van Tinker v. Van Tinker, 38 Wn.2d 390, 229 P.2d 333 (1951).