It's that time of year again. Summer is over and school is back in session. It's a mixed bag of emotions for parents, with excitement and hope about their children's growth and transitions. Alongside all of the positive feelings, many parents also struggle with financial stress around school expenses. For divorced parents, it's that much more complicated, with educational costs figured into child support responsibilities and obligations. The common assumption is that this type of obligation ends when the child graduates from high school. However, this is not necessarily the case.
Postsecondary educational support is the court-ordered payment parents are required to make for costs incurred when a child receives additional schooling after graduating from high school. Postsecondary educational support may include vocational school, trade school, or college expenses. Tuition, health fees, room and board, and insurance are just some of the additional costs that may incur.
Washington State statute RCW 26.19.090 describes and defines the standards for postsecondary educational support awards:
(1) The child support schedule shall be advisory and not mandatory for postsecondary educational support. Washington parents don't necessarily have to pay for postsecondary educational expenses. The schedule for this is advisory and not binding. Courts will consider the individual circumstances.
(2) 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 will consider a number of factors, including:
- Age of the child
- Child's needs
- Expectations of the parties for their children when the parents were together
- Child's prospects, desires, aptitudes, abilities or disabilities
- The nature of the postsecondary education sought
- The parents' level of education, 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.
(3) The child must enroll in an accredited academic or vocational school, must be actively pursuing a course of study commensurate with the child's vocational goals, and must be in good academic standing as defined by the institution. The court-ordered postsecondary educational support shall be automatically suspended during the period or periods the child fails to comply with these conditions. The child has responsibilities too – They must meet these requirements and stay in compliance with the conditions in order to receive the support
(4) The child shall also make available all academic records and grades to both parents as a condition of receiving postsecondary educational support. Each parent shall have full and equal access to the postsecondary education records as provided in RCW 26.09.225.
(5) The court shall not order the payment of postsecondary educational expenses beyond the child's 23rd birthday, except for exceptional circumstances, such as mental, physical, or emotional disabilities.
(6) The court shall direct that either or both parents' payments for postsecondary educational expenses be made directly to the educational institution if feasible.
Often times, divorcing couples make their intentions clear about postsecondary educational support at the time of dissolution when parenting plans and child custody agreements are being put into play. Other times this is determined later. Parents may choose to set limits as in a maximum dollar amount per year, or as in a maximum percentage of the parent's income. Parents may also choose to not require postsecondary support at all and to make all contributions to postsecondary education voluntary and not required by court order. It is advised that you consult with a knowledgeable family law attorney about what is best for you.
If you have questions about postsecondary educational support or if you need support in organizing your own child custody agreement, please contact our experienced family law attorneys at Dellino Law Group for a consultation.