What is “Post-Secondary Support”?

In Washington state, if you are a single parent, you have the right to ask the court to force the other parent to help pay for college for your child. It is called “Post-Secondary Support”. The best time period to make the request is 6 – 3 months prior to your child’s graduation from high school. The court is going to want to know some details about what your child’s plans for college are, your current financial situation, and the other parent’s financial situation. You must make the request prior to your child graduating high school, otherwise you will lose the right. 

How to make the request:

You will be filing numerous documents with the Superior Court. They can be found here. You will be filing the following documents to begin the action: 

  1. (1) Summons 
  2. (2) Petition for Modification of Child Support 
  3. (3) Confidential Information Form
  4. (4) Financial Declaration 
  5. (5) Sealed Financial Source Document Coversheet 
  6. (6) Declaration
  7. (7) Notice of Hearing
  8. (8) Proposed Child Support Order 

Note: depending on the facts of your situation, it may be advisable to file an additional document or two (please speak with an attorney to double-check based on your unique circumstances). You need to first fill out the documents, make 3 copies of each of them once they are complete, file the original at the Superior Court Clerk’s office, and provide copies to all interested parties (keep one copy for yourself, one copy to the other parent, and one copy to the judicial officer). 

Tips for how you fill out the documents: 

  1. 1. Summons – This is mostly an instruction page for the other parent to let them know how to respond and notification this action has been filed. You will fill in the blanks. 
  2. 2. Petition for Modification of Child Support – In Washington, to make this request you will be modifying your current child support order. The Petition is the document where you tell the court what you want them to do on a big picture level. You will be specifically interested in requesting that the post-secondary educational support section be modified (Section 8 of the current form). Make sure you state that the change of circumstances is your child is preparing to go to college. 
  3. 3. Confidential Information Form – This document is for the court’s internal system. This remains confidential and only the court sees it. This is background and bio information. Fill this out to the best of your ability and knowledge. 
  4. 4. Financial Declaration – You will be telling the court what your current financial situation is in this document. You will cover things like your income, the other parent’s income (if you know it), your financial assets, other income in your household, your monthly average budget, and your debts. 
  5. 5. Sealed Financial Source Document Coversheet – This is a coversheet to make sure that all your financial documents that you submit to the court remain confidential (i.e. not visible in the public court file). The court will need you to provide your most recent 2 years of tax returns, and most recent 6 months of pay stubs or proof of earnings. Attach all those financial statements to the back of the coversheet. 
  6. 6. Declaration – This is where the majority of the information needs to be – this is the “why” to your request for college support. The Declaration is your written statement under oath. You will need to describe the following things:
    1. a. Where your child is planning to attend college (where applied, where accepted, where they plan to go, etc.). 
    2. b. What programs are they interested in, what do they want to pursue. 
    3. c. Print out information from the Universities on estimated costs of attendance for each school. Discuss them in the Declaration and attach those printouts to the back of your Declaration. 
    4. d. Describe what your child’s aptitude is for college, such as college preparedness they have done, what their grades are, etc. Then attach a copy of your child’s high school transcript to the back of your Declaration. 
    5. e. Describe the discussions that you and the child’s other parent have had about college (if any), what college you went to (if applicable), and whether you had expected your child to go to college upon graduation from high school.
    6. f. In general, make sure that you are discussing the following: the age of the child; the child’s needs; the expectations that you had for your child when you and the other parent were together; the child’s prospects, desires, aptitudes, abilities or disabilities; the nature of the postsecondary education sought; and your level of education, standard of living, and current and future resources. Also to be considered are the amount and type of support that the child would have been afforded if you and the other parent had stayed together.
    7. g. You need to ultimately make a request to the court about how each parent (and your child) should share the costs for: Tuition, mandatory fees, housing, dining, books, personal expenses, transportation expenses, etc. A common outcome is having everyone be responsible for 1/3 of the costs each – 1/3 for you, 1/3 for the other parent, and 1/3 for the child. Usually the court allows the child’s scholarships and grants to count towards the child’s required contribution. The court also typically caps the total tuition costs at what it would cost for your child to attend an in-state public university. 
  7. 7. Notice of Hearing – This document will set the hearing date in order to have the judicial officer decide whether college support will be awarded and to what degree. You can ask the court Clerk’s office what date and time you can set the hearing for. You will need to set the hearing at least 20 days out from the date you provide the other parent copies of the documents. 
  8. 8. Proposed Child Support Order – You will be drafting the proposed child support order for the court to potentially enter (depending on what the court decides). You should draft it in the way that you are hoping the court will rule. The regular child support provisions will not apply because your child will no longer be under the age of 18 or in high school – primarily you are focusing on Section 17 (Post-secondary educational support). This is where you will be recommending to the court how each parent (and your child) should share the costs for: Tuition, mandatory fees, housing, dining, books, personal expenses, transportation expenses, etc. 

Before you file, don’t forget to consider:

If you are doing this court action on your own (i.e. representing yourself), it is highly recommended that you have your documents reviewed by an attorney before filing to make sure that you did everything correctly – you get one shot. Keep in mind you must make the request before your child graduates from high school. Don’t wait until the last minute. Also keep in mind that every single-family situation is different, and this is general advice and guidelines for requesting college support. If you have questions, want an attorney to review your documents, or would like an attorney to represent you in this request, contact the experienced attorneys at Navigate Law Group. We are here to help you secure financial support for your child’s future.   

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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.