College Support Obligations For Parents

If you are divorced or separated and have a child in High School who is planning to go to college, then you may have questions about college support obligations for parents. Do parents have to pay for college?  Does a separated or divorced parent have any options with enforcing college support help from the other parent?

If you know someone with a high school senior (even if in running start), then share this information. If you have any questions related to college support obligations, feel free to contact us at Van Siclen, Stocks & Firkins.

The law allows the Court to exercise discretion upon receiving a petition to establish college support (“postsecondary educational support”).  Generally, you must file your petition in Court before child support terminates, which is usually when the child/student is under 18 or no longer enrolled in high school.  Most parties agree on some help for their children, but when it is not agreed, it is up to the Court.  VSSF prefers to file these petitions in March or April, but the absolute latest is before June (in most cases), before graduation from high school.  Often, the Court will order a 1/3, 2/3 split, where the child/student remains responsible for 1/3rd and the parents divide up the remaining 2/3rds proportionally.  This usually comes with a cap of in-state tuition, meaning the total obligation will not exceed the published expenses at the UW or WSU.

If you have doubts about what your options are, then please email a copy of your latest child support order to us and/or schedule a phone consultation.  We can go over your options for free.  VSSF can file a petition with about 7-10 days turn around upon receiving all the necessary records and documents from you.  The actual court hearings are usually about 3 ½ to 4 months after filing.

Here is the law below:

RCW 26.19.090

Standards for postsecondary educational support awards.

(1) The child support schedule shall be advisory and not mandatory for postsecondary educational support.

(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 shall exercise its discretion when determining whether and for how long to award postsecondary educational support based upon consideration of factors that include but are not limited to the following: 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 postsecondary education sought; and the parents’ 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 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.

(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 twenty-third 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. If direct payments are not feasible, then the court in its discretion may order that either or both parents’ payments be made directly to the child if the child does not reside with either parent. If the child resides with one of the parents the court may direct that the parent making the support transfer payments make the payments to the child or to the parent who has been receiving the support transfer payments.

1991 sp.s. c 28 § 7; 1990 1st ex.s. c 2 § 9.]


SeverabilityEffective dateCaptions not law1991 sp.s. c 28: See notes following RCW 26.09.100.

Effective datesSeverability1990 1st ex.s. c 2: See notes following RCW 26.09.100.

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