What is Post-Secondary Educational Support (Child Support for College)?

Post-Secondary Education Support is financial college support provided to the child(ren) by the parents for college expenses after the child(ren) graduate from high school. When the Washington court looks at entering a court order for post-secondary support, the factors to be considered are found in RCW 26.19.090. Post-Secondary Support can help pay for college expenses including but not limited to, tuition, room and board, transportation expenses, books, etc.

What is the difference between child support and post-secondary support?

In Washington State, your child(ren) are typically covered under the Child Support Order until they are 18 or graduated from high school, whichever happens last. Post-secondary support is financial support that can be ordered after your child graduates from high school if they plan to attend college. Post-Secondary Support is a discretionary request, and that means it is not always guaranteed to be awarded. It is granted on a case-by-case basis depending on several factors and circumstances, as described in RCW 26.19.090. It is important to note that if post-secondary is granted, the court will not require payment for the post-secondary expenses beyond the child(ren)’s 23rd birthday except under certain circumstances such as physical, mental, or emotional disabilities.

When considering whether to order support for postsecondary educational expenses, the court typically considers factors that include but are not limited to the following:

  1. Age of the child.
  2. The child’s needs.
  3. The expectations of the parties for their children when the parents were together.
  4. The child’s prospects, desires, aptitudes, abilities, or disabilities.
  5. The nature of the postsecondary education sought.
  6. The parents’ level of education, standard of living, and current and future resources.
  7. The amount and type of support that the child would have been afforded if the parents had stayed together.

When should I request Post-Secondary Educational Support (Child Support for College)?

You must file your request with the court no later than the child(ren)’s graduation date in order to preserve your claim for post-secondary support. If the request is not made prior to the graduation date, then you will forgo your right to request the post-secondary support. It is best practice to file your request with the court between 6 months to 1 month prior to the expected graduation date.

Tip: Double check the current Child Support Order, Section 18, under “Post-secondary educational support (for college or vocational school)”, and make sure there isn’t any language preventing you from making a request for post-secondary support. It would be unusual to have any language preventing a future request for post-secondary support, but occasionally people have that in their Child Support Order. Assuming there is no language denying your ability, you are good to make the request.

Even if the court does not order post-secondary support for a child, that does not prevent either parent from voluntarily contributing to their children’s college education expenses. This is always going to be true.

How do I request Post-Secondary Educational Support (Child Support for College)?

Between 6 – 1 month prior to the child(ren) graduating from high school, you will want to fill out and file the following documents with the court:

  • Petition to Modify Child Support Order (form FL Modify 501)
  • Summons: Notice about Petition to Modify Child Support Order (form FL Modify 500)
  • Confidential Information (form FL All Family 001)
  • SCOMIS Coversheet (form SCOMIS)
  • Financial Declaration (form FL All Family 131)
  • Sealed Financial Source Documents (form FL All Family 011)
  • Declaration (form FL All Family 135)
  • Notice of Hearing on Petition to Modify Child Support Order (form FL Modify 506) 

These forms can be found on the Washington state Court’s website. 

The Notice of Hearing document will schedule the hearing in front of a Judge to make a decision regarding the post-secondary support. After filing the above-referenced documents, you will need to have the opposing party personally served within the required number of days before the scheduled hearing date. Check your County’s local court rules to verify the deadline to serve the other parent. For example, in Clark County, WA (where I practice law), you must serve the other parent at least 10 court days prior to the hearing date. Clark County’s local court rules can be found here. Unless you and the opposing party come to an agreement, everything will heard in front of the Judge assigned to your case and they will decide whether or not post-secondary support should be granted, how much support shall be provided, and how much support each party and child is responsible for. 

What information should I include in my materials when requesting post-secondary support?

The court will want to see as much information as possible addressing the factors listed in RCW 26.19.090, including but not limited to a detailed plan for the child(ren)’s educational plans. Your arguments in favor of getting post-secondary support ordered should be primarily laid out in your Declaration form. The Declaration is your sworn written statement explaining why your child(ren) needs the support that you are requesting. You can and should also attach supporting documents as exhibits (with any confidential information redacted) to your Declaration which help support your arguments. For example, some good/common supporting documents would be:

  • A copy of your child(ren)’s acceptance letter to colleges
  • A copy of your child(ren)’s FASFA application
  • A copy of your child(ren)’s Financial Aid Award
  • Any scholarships that your child(ren) were awarded.
  • A copy of the estimated cost of tuition and other school-related costs for the school that your child(ren) was accepted to.
    • If your child(ren) have not been accepted to a school or applied to a school yet, it is most common for the court to consider tuition costs from an in-state 4-year university (so pick one to use as an example to discuss in court).
  • A copy of your child(ren)’s current grades
  • Information regarding where your child(ren) will be living while they are in school.

If post-secondary support is granted by the court, how will it be paid?

If post-secondary support is granted, the court will decide how much support will be paid and how the payments are made. The court will often times order payments to be made in one of three ways:

  • Payments will be made directly to the child.
  • Payments will be made directly to the institution.
  • If the child resides with a parent while pursuing post-secondary education, the court may order payments to be made to that parent.

Preparing for and making a request for post-secondary support can be overwhelming. It is always advisable, at a minimum, to do at least a one-time meeting with an attorney to review your court documents prior to submitting them to the court. Please contact my office to set up a meeting to review documents, discuss additional questions, or would like assistance with your request for post-secondary support.

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Every legal issue is very unique. Accordingly, the information in this blog is intended as general education material and not as legal advice. If you think you may have a legal issue, you should consult an attorney.