postsecondary education

When Can Child Support Payments Go Past 18 Years Old?

Goldberg Jones Child Support, Featured Posts 5 Comments

In most cases in Washington, child support comes to an end when the children in question turn 18-years-old or graduate from high school, whichever comes later. Circumstances do exist, however, where payments may continue longer.

Age Of Majority And Child Support

When it comes to the Evergreen State, the age of majority is 18. This generally means that when your kids hit this milestone, they legally become adults and the government no longer considers them dependents.

They can vote, join the military, and all indulge in most of the things that, legally speaking, make them adults. In specific situations, however, they retain their dependent status.

The most common of these instances involve high school, postsecondary education, or special needs.

Support Payments During High School

One situation where support payments go past 18 is when the child is still in high school. For example, if your child turns 18 in February, they may not graduate until June.

After a divorce in Washington, parents pay child support until the child turns 18 or graduates high school, whichever occurs later.

Related Reading: How Is Child Support Calculated?

Postsecondary Educational Support

Another situation where Washington may order child support to continue is in the case of postsecondary education. This covers an array of educational options, including community colleges and four-year universities.

Professional training, technical instruction, and vocational training designed to increase future employment prospects also fall into this category.

File A Petition For Postsecondary Support

Either parent can file for postsecondary support. However, you must file the petition prior to the child’s 18th birthday or their high school graduation. Again, whichever happens later.

It is possible to address the topic of postsecondary support in the original child support order. If this is the case, there will be a section outlining each parent’s obligation. In this situation, it’s already all laid out for you.

However, if postsecondary support was not addressed in your child support order, you may have to revisit the issue.

Related Reading: When And How Can I Modify My Support Payments?

Are You Required to Pay For Postsecondary Education?

Both students and parents feel the financial obligation for postsecondary support in Washington. Meeting this obligation becomes even more complex with divorced parents.

While a support order can account for postsecondary education, it’s not mandatory or automatic.

Legal Standards For Postsecondary Support

Laying out the legal standards, RCW 26.19.090 states:

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;
    • the parents’ level of education,
    • standard of living,
    • current and future resources,
    • and the amount and type of support that the child would have been afforded if the parents had stayed together.

Additionally, note that court-ordered postsecondary support can be automatically suspended if the student fails to comply with these conditions.

Except for specific circumstances (such as special needs), the court won’t order postsecondary educational support past the age of 23.

Verifying Postsecondary Support Payments

How do you know that your postsecondary support payments are truly going towards college tuition and other expenses?

The payer has the right to require proof of secondary payments. The payee is going to need to provide proof to the payer that their postsecondary payments are actually going towards college expenses.

Whether it’s registration, whether it’s a grade report or at least progress to it. A Facebook picture of your child hanging out at Husky Stadium is not going to cut it.

Special Needs And Continuing Support

Support may continue beyond a child’s 18th birthday is if they have special needs that necessitate lasting parental care. Much like postsecondary education, in cases of a known disability, a child support order will likely address this ahead of time.

The court accounts for children mentally or physically incapable of supporting themselves when awarding child support, which can extend beyond 18. This varies from case to case, but the court may order support to continue indefinitely, or until they no longer consider the child disabled.

Washington child support orders, as well as those in most other states, are layered and complicated. Support obligations depend on a great many factors.

Related ReadingHow Is Child Support Calculated In Washington?
Related Reading: What Is The Division Of Child Support?

From The Radio

Rick Jones, one of our founding partners, regularly appears on the Danny Bonaduce and Sarah Morning Show, where he tackles family law questions from listeners. This question, as it often does, came up on a recent episode.

CALLER: “I just recently divorced after a 30-year marriage. The divorce was finalized on June 6th of this year. I have custody of my 17-year-old daughter who is a Junior at the University of Washington this year. She’s been there since she was 14. She got into an early entrance program. There was an agreement that she could go to University at this age, by her mother, by myself, and by her, well before we were ever divorced.”

“The problem lies in that she was court-ordered to pay 71% of the associated educational costs for my daughter. We travel from Maple Vally all the way to the University of Washington in Seattle every day, which is 38 miles each way. It amounts to $2500-$2800 or so a year…”

“Basically my ex is saying that she’s not responsible for transporting my daughter to and from her education.”

Rick: “So she’s trying to limit it to just the tuition, books, etc?”

Caller: “Yeah, you got it.”

Rick: “The question is this, especially since you just were done in June, that means you’ve got final orders. You’ve got a child support order that’s going to speak to it. What does the child support order say?”

Caller: “It says she’s required to pay 71% of all educational expenses. It doesn’t clearly define whether or not transportation to and from is included.”

Rick: “Welcome to my world. It’s not clear, it’s not clear either way, it’s the gray area. What you can do is this. What you can say to her is, ‘I think it’s expenses.’ Then she’ll say back to you, ‘I don’t think it is included in the definition of expenses.’

“So the only way you’re going to find out and have it be enforceable is to go back to the court and have them give you clarification. Whether you want to do that or not, that’s up to you. But there’s no stock answer in the law books that says educational expenses include gas and wear on your car.”

Danny: “I’ll tell you this, Tony, and the second I’m done saying it, there’s a very good chance Rick Jones is going to punch me right in the head. I think you’ve got a winner. It’s costing you five dollars a gallon, she can pay three of it.”

Sarah: “Tony’s got to decide whether it’s worth paying the price of a lawyer and going to court to get $2800.”

Related Reading: Child Support Accountability: Keeping Track Of Payments

Comments 5

  1. Do you have to be a full time high school student to continue child support passed 18 in state of Washington when he was do to graduate this this year but won’t because he’s only going part time and mom signed him out at beginning of year…..?

    1. Post

      That’s a good question, Caryn. Thanks for reaching out. I passed your contact information along to Ken Alan, our managing attorney. He will be in contact soon with a more in-depth answer than we can get into here.

  2. If a child does not graduate from high school because of lack of credits but will be turning 18 In July. Does child support still continue or does it stop wants the child turns 18? The divorce creed states child support ends wants the child either turns 18 yrs old or graduates which ever comes last.

    1. Post

      Hi Lisa! Thanks for the question. This can vary some from one case to the next. I passed your contact information along to our managing attorney, Ken Alan. He will be in touch soon, and when he hears some of the specifics, he’ll hopefully be able to offer more insight than we can get into here. Best!

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