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

Please Note:

  • When we say "parent" here, we mean both parents and guardians of the child who needs support after high school.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Most child support ends when a child graduates from high school. A child who is still dependent on their parents after that and needs financial support for education after high school may be able to get "post-secondary educational support."

If a judge orders post-secondary educational support, either or both parents would be responsible for the child's educational expenses after high school. This would include college or vocational school tuition. It would also include costs for school housing, books, and supplies.

If your child support order does not cover post-secondary educational support, we explain here how you can ask a judge to change (modify) the order to include it.

No. 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 age 18, or if the child is in school full-time, age 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. Keep reading to learn more.

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

  • Still dependent on you and the other parent for support.
  • Will need financial help for post-high school education.

It does not matter. You can still file a petition to modify your child support order. And your petition can still say, as in the section immediately above, that a "substantial change of circumstances" has taken place, that the child is still dependent on you and the other parent for support, and will need help for post-high school education.

You will not need to show a "substantial change in circumstances." When you fill out the petition, check the second box in section 8.

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

Only a parent or guardian may file.  

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

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.

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.
  • The parents' expectations for the child when they were still together.
  • Child's prospects, desires, skills, abilities, or disabilities.
  • What kind of post-high school education the child wants.
  • Parents' level of education, standard of living, and resources.
  • How much and what kind of support the child would have had if the parents stayed together.
  • You should file a sworn written statement (a declaration) addressing the factors above.
  • You should file any written proof of the above factors or other reasons why your child should get this support.

Some examples:

  • Child's acceptance into a full-time program at a college, university, or tech school.
  • Scholarships your child won, and how they will help.
  • Loans your child has applied or will apply for, and what the child needs to get the loans.
  • Awards your 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












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

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

The judge may not order any post-secondary support if the parents cannot afford to pay.

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

Yes. Your child must be all of these:

  • Enrolled in an accredited academic or vocational school.
  • Actively working on a course of study that matches your child's vocational goals.
  • "In good academic standing" as the school defines it.
  • Making their academic records, including grades, available to both parents.    

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

Only up to your child's 23rd birthday, except in exceptional cases, such as when your child has mental, physical, and/or emotional disabilities. If yours is an exceptional case, you should talk to a lawyer. See contact info below.

You can read it at RCW 26.19.090.

Get Legal Help

Visit Northwest Justice Project to find out how to get legal help. 

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Last Review and Update: Jan 12, 2023
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