What is Post-Secondary Child Support?

Posted on August 22, 2023 08:42am
What is Post-Secondary Child Support?
Post-secondary child support, also called post-secondary educational support, is the court-ordered payment for a child’s college expenses. Under Washington state law, the court can order a divorced parent to pay for some or all of their child’s secondary education expenses, including not only colleges, but trade schools, vocational schools, and sometimes even graduate school.

Post-secondary support for your child’s education can be determined in two ways:

First, it can be included in your divorce and custody agreement. Both parents can agree on how their children’s college or other post-secondary educational expenses will be divided between the parents in your divorce settlement agreement that is entered into court.

Or, post-secondary child support can be ordered by the court. Typically, child support ends once a child reaches 18 and becomes a legal adult, but certain state laws have recently allowed courts to order the payment of post-secondary support for education expenses in some cases. This isn’t always obligatory, however. Sometimes the court order is labeled an “advisory,” which means it isn’t binding.

In most cases where post-secondary child support is requested, it is one parent asking another to help pay for the child’s education. In these situations, the court will look at the dependence of the child, and whether he or she relies on one parent for living expenses, food, and other necessities. If one parent is shouldering all of these costs for the adult child, the court may choose to order the other parent to lend financial help for post-secondary education expenses.

The court will consider the following factors before deciding to order post-secondary child support:

  • The age of the child
  • The child’s financial needs
  • The parents’ expectations or plans for their child’s post-secondary education when they were together
  • The child’s abilities, disabilities, and desires
  • The type of education the child is seeking
  • Each parent’s education, living conditions, and resources
  • The financial support the child potentially would have had if the parents remained together

The payments will be divided between parents much like traditional child support. It will depend on the income and means of each parent, as well as their regular living expenses. The court will also consider who the child currently lives with, and who pays for what expenses regarding the child. According to these factors, the court will decide how much each parent can or should fairly contribute to further the child’s education.

Conditions for Your Post-Secondary Child Support Obligation

There are conditions for the obligation of post-secondary child support that must be met in order for the financial obligation to remain binding.

  • The child must be enrolled in an accredited institution, and must actively pursue his or her career goals.
  • They must retain good academic standing, which is defined by each school, but is typically a minimum GPA or completion of a minimum number of work or training hours.
  • The child must provide both parents with full access to all academic records and grades.

Age Limitation

There is also a strict, set limit for how long support can be ordered. Washington state law only requires payment until the child turns 23 years old. Even if school hasn’t been completed at this age, the court cannot order either parent to pay any more.

Other Exceptions

If a child is emancipated, parents typically have no financial obligation, as the child is legally independent. However, it is possible for the courts to re-open the case in order to earn children post-secondary child support even after they have been emancipated.

If you and your child do not get along, there are stipulations in some states that apply to parents and children with estranged relationships sometimes called the “wallet rule.” This rule prevents a child (or the other parent) from asking for funds for school when the child does not, and does not hope to, have a relationship with that parent. However, Washington state laws do not specifically include the wallet rule.

For more information about post-secondary child support, or other types of child support issues in Washington, contact McKinley Irvin.
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