post secondary education costs

Who Pays for College?

Goldberg Jones Child Support 8 Comments

Graduating high school is a right of passage. The excitement of going off to college often accompanies this achievement. This milestone comes with optimism and enthusiasm. But one significant question also raises its ugly head: who pays for college?

During this pivotal time in a young person’s life, this represents a heavy reality. Post-secondary education is expensive. That’s not a surprise. So, who foots the bill in cases of divorce?

Related Reading: Child Support Accountability

Are You Required to Pay For Post-Secondary Education?

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

When determining your responsibilities in regards to paying for your child’s college or technical schooling, the best place to start is with your existing Child Support Order.

In Washington State, child support is paid until the child either turns 18 or graduates High School,whichever occurs later.

The support obligation can extend beyond this. Most commonly to cover post-secondary education. However, this is neither automatic nor guaranteed.

It is possible to address the topic of post-secondary 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. The good news is, it can still be revisited.

Related Reading: COVID-19, Job Loss, and Child Support Modification

How To File A Petition For Post-secondary Support

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

In Washington state, children must meet specific criteria to receive post-secondary support and remain eligible.

The child must enroll in an accredited academic or vocational school. Additionally, they must stay in good academic standing, as defined by that institution.

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

The child support schedule shall be advisory and not mandatory for post-secondary educational support.

When considering whether to order support for post-secondary educational expenses, the court shall determine whether the child is, in fact, dependent and reliant on the parents for the reasonable necessities of life.

Related Reading: Do Post-Secondary Support Orders Include Transportation Costs?

The Standards For Post-secondary Support

RCW 26.19.090 outlines the standards for post-secondary support in Washington. These include but are not limited to: 

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

But wait, there’s also more to consider:

  • The child shall also make available all academic records and grades to both parents. Each parent shall have full and equal access to post-secondary education records.
  • The court shall not order the payment of post-secondary educational expenses beyond the child’s 23rd birthday, except for exceptional circumstances. This includes mental, physical, or emotional disabilities.
  • The court shall direct that either or both parents’ payments for post-secondary educational expenses be made directly to the educational institution if feasible. If direct payments are not feasible, then the court may order payments made directly to the child. This only happens if the child does not reside with either parent.
  • If the child resides with one of the parents, payments may go directly to that individual.

Beyond all of these, the court uses discretion in matters of post-secondary support.

Post-secondary support sometimes surprises parents. If you have kids, prepare and understand your potential obligation. Married or divorced, put a plan in place well before high school.

Related Reading: Avoid Becoming a Deadbeat Dad

Comments 8

  1. I have a son who is almost 28 years old, I have been paying child support since he was born. When my son was 17 I refinancedon’t my home and there was a child support lean, the child support lean was paid of leaving a zero balance but my son turned 17 in November and at the end of the school year he dropped out of high school I was still paying child support up until his 18th birthday then I stopped paying and the courts said I had arrears now and I have ongoing support now I have two payments arrears and on going, my son was not in school but his mom told them he was, so when I told them she is full or crap they said prove it, I said if I have to pay support I want to see grades and I want a full report to make sure he is going to school. The child support case worker told me they do not have to tell me what school he is in rolled in or what his grades are or any information as long as he is going to school and living at home this is been bs after he turned 25 I said what the he’ll is going on why am I still paying back support and on going support? The case worker told me I still had to keep paying g until he graduates I said this is pure bs there has to be somekind of cut off how many years does it take to make up his senior project he only had his senior project when he dropped out. The case worker was a real ass she told me I would have to pay until he graduated even if he was 35 years old and after that he can enroll in college and I would have to continue to pay until he graduated form college, I said no way he could be 50 years old, and the case worker said or older. This is pure shit, I have no grades no school info no info at all I said I am not paying g anymore untill I have proof of all this because I believe this is pure harassment and this is harassment since day one. They say I have to give them a daily diary of each day what I do this has been going on for 27 years this is worse then probation this is not right and they threw me in jail several times they have my drivers license suspended and my passport tied up my car my house my life, its even worse then this it’s criminal. My son wrote a letter that he was not living at home and he never went to school. Now they tell me the mother has to agree to stop child support but she won’t,,what the he’ll. My own son says she is full of crap.

    1. Post

      That’s a tough situation, Matthew. I passed it along to our managing attorney, Ken Alan, and he should contact you. If you like, you can also give us a call at (206) 448-1010.

  2. If it’s on the original divorce papers that the parents have to pay for secondary education, is there a way to get it that the parents can pay if they so choose?

    1. Post

      Hi Kellie. Thanks for reaching out. I passed your contact information along to our managing attorney, Ken Alan. He’ll contact you shortly and be able to answer your question. Thanks!

    1. Post

      Hey Doug, thanks for reaching out. That’s a complicated question and a lot depends on your specific situation. I passed your contact information along to our managing attorney, Ken Alan, and he will contact you with a more in-depth answer.

  3. I have four children. A son who is 27. daughter 18, another daughter who is 17, and my youngest daughter who is 12.

    I’ve been paying child support faithfully since their Mom and I split in 2013 in the amount of 1,200.00 per month until my eldest daughter turned 18 and graduated from high school.

    She took some time after graduation to decide on military service or college. Because of this I stopped paying child support for her because she graduated and was not enrolled in college.

    In October she enrolled at the University of Washington.

    It is my understanding that at 18 or after that age, support is for education. My ex wife believes I’m supposed to continue to pay her child support to her because our eldest daughter continues to live at home.

    After reading the RCW this doesn’t appear to be true. Since she’s enrolled I’ve bought her books and will be making a payment for half of the remaining balance for her tuition that her student loan does not cover.

    Lastly there isn’t anything in our divorce decree about post secondary education.

    There was no expectation when we were married of either her nor any of our children that we’d pay for college. The expectation we as Mom and Dad was that it was the child’s responsibility to pay for their education through scholarships or military service.

    This is what our son did in 2010 by joining the US Army much like my ex wife and I did to pay for our education.

    What should I do?

    1. Post

      Hi Tony, thanks for reaching out. That’s a complicated situation with a ton of moving parts. I passed your contact information on to Ken Alan, our managing attorney. He will reach out to you soon and give you a better idea of your options and how we can help!

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