postsecondary education

Can Child Support Payments Continue Past 18?

Goldberg Jones Child Support, Featured Posts 8 Comments

In most cases in Washington, child support comes to an end when the child in question turns 18 years old or graduates from high school, whichever comes later. Circumstances do exist, however, where payments 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 a child with special needs.

Related Reading: What Is The Division Of Child Support?

Support Payments During High School

Probably the most common 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 likely won’t graduate until the end of the school year, usually in June.

In Washington, parents pay child support until the child turns 18 or graduates high school, whichever occurs later. That “or” does a lot of work. The system intends to provide support as long as your child remains in school.

Related Reading: How Is Child Support Calculated?

Postsecondary Educational Support

Another common situation where Washington orders 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.

Petitioning For Postsecondary Support

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

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

However, if you don’t address postsecondary support in your child support order, you have to revisit the issue later.

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. You or your ex must do the leg work for this. Either when you first deal with child support, or further down the road, closer to when the child becomes a legal adult.

Related Reading: What is the Division of Child Support?

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.
    • Also to be considered are 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. After that, the child generally must fend for themselves.

Related Reading:

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 must provide proof that these payments actually go towards education. Things like a registration confirmation or grade report typically count. Basically, it must be an official item. An Instagram post of your child hanging out at Husky Stadium probably won’t cut it.

Related Reading: Verifying Post-Secondary Support Payments

Special Needs And Continuing Support

There’s also a third situation where support continues past a child’s 18th birthday. In cases of special needs, the court often orders payments for a longer period.

The most commonly occurs in cases where a child is mentally or physically incapable of caring for themselves. Thus they require lasting parental care. It varies, but in cases of permanent disability, the court often even orders payments to continue indefinitely. Or at least until the child is no longer considered disabled, if they ever reach that point.

Much like postsecondary education, in cases of a known disability, a child support order should address this matter ahead of time. It shouldn’t come out of nowhere and blindside anyone.

Related Reading: Child Support Accountability 

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. The question of post-secondary support, 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.”

Listen to the Answer Below:

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 [an] expense.’ 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 8

  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!

  3. Hi and thanks in advance for your reply. My son turns 18 in April he lives in Alaska with his mother. I have been paying child support since he was 5. If he decides he wants to take online courses does that qualify as post secondary education? My fear is that his mother will encourage him to do so just to continue getting her monthly payments.

    1. Post

      Hi Trini, if they’re college or vocational training classes, that most likely would count as post-secondary education. However, one important thing to note is that, in most cases, you have to petition for continued support BEFORE a child turns 18. So, if that does happen, it shouldn’t be a total, out-of-the-blue surprise. Again, that’s how it usually happens. Things can vary case to case–perhaps Alaska does things differently–and in general, if you’re concerned about it, it’s probably in your best interests to talk to an attorney about it.

  4. i never knew their was a family formula for child support now i have to wait 4 more year for my 14 yr to turn 18/ while i still have to pay for my 18 for 4 more year. she not going to college.

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