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. A number of 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, they even 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.
As we said, 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 to Calculate Child Support
Special Needs And Continuing Support
Another situation where support continues past 18 involves cases of a child with special needs. Under these circumstances, the court often orders payments for a longer period.
The most commonly occurs when 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 until the state no longer considers the child disabled, if they ever reach that point.
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
Postsecondary Educational Support
Probably the most common situation where Washington orders child support to continue occurs in cases 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.
Often the original child support order addresses the topic of postsecondary support. 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?
Who Pays 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,
- 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: Ways People Damage Their Own Divorce Cases
Verifying Post Secondary Support Payments
These payments are expensive—it’s no surprise college is pricey. If you’re on the hook for your child’s college tuition, it makes sense to want to verify these post-secondary support payments. But how?
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.
Listen to a more in-depth conversation about this topic below.
Related Reading: Verifying Post-Secondary Support Payments
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.
Question: “Tom’s daughter recently graduated from a community college. The court orders say he has to pay [post-secondary support] until she graduates or [until] her 23rd birthday. Supposedly she’s trying to go to the UW now, but she’s not supplied him any kind of paperwork or proof. Just a Facebook picture of her at Husky Stadium. [Background laughter.] What kind of proof do they need to supply that she’s actually enrolled in the university?”
Danny: “I have pictures of me at Husky Stadium.”
Sarah: “Does she have to provide proof or because she graduated from community college, is that her graduating and he’s done [paying child support]?”
Rick: “Well first, Go Dawgs!
“You know, it’s actually a really good question. The fact that she graduated from a community college doesn’t necessarily put an end to it because we know that there can be more, especially for an aspiring student. Certainly, the court’s attitude is very open to continuing education, so I don’t see the door shutting on that.
“At the same time though, she is going to need to prove that it’s more than just a spoof on him. Whether it’s registration, whether it’s a grade report or at least progress to it.
“If she misses a quarter or misses a summer, it’s not going to be the death-nail for it. But let’s say she misses a couple of quarters or doesn’t enroll for a couple of quarters, then that is problematic for her.”
Sarah: “And does he just stop paying then, or does he have to go back to the court and say, ‘She’s not proven that she’s going to school, can I stop paying?'”
Rick: “It depends on how he’s paying right now. Most orders go through the state, through this DCS [Division of Child Support] I was talking about. So if he’s already doing that, he really should be continuing that or at least getting with them and explain why he’s going to be stopping.
“If he’s paying the institution directly, well, obviously that stopped because it’s no longer community college.
“If he’s paying the mother—which would be rare for post-secondary—but if he’s paying the mother, then yeah, stop.”
Related Reading: Child Support Modification: How To Change A Child Support Order
Post-Secondary Support and Transportation
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 this includes transportation.”
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