Post Secondary Support in Washington – College Costs Money – Who Pays? At some point, your children will turn 18 and graduate from high school. And they want to go to college. That’s good news and bad news – because the courts can order the parents to contribute to post-secondary support. How much? Keep reading…
When Do You Have To Ask? 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. It will usually cap the room and board costs at the U of W rates, but the amount will be the actual costs of attendance. For example, see Everett Community College rates, or Bellevue College rates.
What Kind of Language? For a typical post-secondary support clause, contact me…
Statutes and Case Law:
Statute: (RCW 26.19.090)
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.
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).