Getting Child Support after High School

Find out when and how to change your child support order to include post-secondary educational support making one or both parents responsible to pay for the child's educational expenses beyond high school. #3818EN

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Most child support ends when a child graduates from high school. A child who is still dependent after that and needs financial support for education after high school may be able to get "post-secondary educational support." Either/both parents would be responsible for the child's educational expenses after high school, including:

  • College or vocational school tuition.

  • Costs for school housing, books, and supplies.

If your child support order does not address post-secondary educational support, you can ask the court to change (modify) the order to include it. 

What if I have a DCS child support order?

You cannot get post-secondary educational support in an administrative child support order (from the Division of Child Support – DCS). Support under that order ends when the child turns 18, or if s/he is in school full-time, 19.

If you only have an administrative order and want post-secondary support, first you must file a court case to get a child support court order.  

I have a court order. How do I change it to get post-secondary educational support?

Use our self-help packet Filing a Petition to Modify Your Child Support Court Order.  Changing your Child Support Court Order will also help.

What if the court order did not cover post-secondary support?

Your petition must say a "substantial change of circumstances" has taken place. It must also say your child is both:

  • Still dependent.

  • Will need financial help for post-high school education.

What if we previously agreed the court should not grant post-secondary support?

Follow the instructions in the section above.

What if my court order reserved my right to ask later for post-secondary support?

You will not need to show a "substantial change in circumstances." Check the second box in section 8 of the Petition.

What if my court order stated the parties had to pay post-secondary support, but not how much?

If you and the other parent do not agree on how much, check the third box in section 8 of the Petition.

Who can file the modification?


  • A parent.

  • A non-parental custodian (guardian).

If the parent/guardian cannot file due to circumstances such as death, jail, or abandonment, the child should talk to a lawyer.

When should I file the modification?

You must file it before the current child support order ends.

If the current support order ends when the child turns 18, you must file before that 18th birthday.

If the child support order ends when the child graduates from high school, you must file at least a month before graduation. Then the child can know what financial help to expect for their post-high school education.

How does the court decide to grant post secondary education support?

The judge decides if the child is "in fact dependent" and relying on the parents for necessities. The judge considers factors such as these: 

  • Child's age.

  • Child's needs.

  • Expectations of the parties for the child when they were together.

  • Child's prospects, desires, skills, abilities, or disabilities.

  • What kind of post-high school education the child wants.

  • Parents'/guardians' level of education, standard of living, and resources.

  • Amount/type of support the child would have had if the parents stayed together.

RCW 26.19.090.

What else should I file with my petition?

  • A sworn declaration addressing the factors above.

  • Any written proof of the above factors or other reason/s why your child should get this support.

Some examples:

  • Child's acceptance into a full-time program at a college/university/tech school.

  • Scholarships the child won, and how they will help.

  • Loans the child has applied or will apply for, and what the child needs to get the loans.

  • Awards the child won in high school showing the child's abilities.

  • Any court documents you gave the court in past child support actions. (Example 1: a financial declaration would show the parent's level of education and standard of living. Example 2: The current child support order might say post-secondary support is reserved. This would show the parties' expectation.)

  • Tuition and other school-related costs. Schools usually provide a breakdown of tuition and school-related costs in the admission packet. It might look like this:


Traditional Undergraduate
Undergraduate Living w/Parents
Tuition and Fees
Room and Board
Personal Expenses

How much will the court order?

The court looks at and may follow the child support schedule. The court will also look at both parties' ability to pay.

The court may decide to divide the responsibility between the parties according to your income. If one party has a lot more income than the other, one will pay more.

*The court may not order any post-secondary support if the parties cannot afford to pay.

How will I get the child support payments?

The court shall order payment directly to the school, or, if that is not possible, to the child if they do not live with a parent/guardian. If the child lives with a parent/guardian, the court may order payment to the child or the parent.

Does the child have any responsibilities?

The child must be all of these:

  • Enrolled in an accredited academic/vocational school.

  • Actively working on a course of study that matches the child's vocational goals.

  • "In good academic standing" as the school defines it.

  • Making his/her academic records, including grades, available to both parents.    

Support automatically stops if the child does not meet one of these.

How long will this support last?

Only up to the child's 23rd birthday, except in exceptional cases, such as when the child has mental/physical/emotional disabilities.



This publication provides general information concerning your rights and responsibilities.  It is not intended as a substitute for specific legal advice. 
This information is current as of July 2017.

© 2017 Northwest Justice Project. 1-888-201-1014.
(Permission for copying and distribution granted to the Alliance for Equal Justice and individuals for non-commercial use only.)


Last Review and Update: Jul 14, 2017
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