When Does Child Support End in Washington State?

July 16, 2022

A divorce when you have children has its own set of problems. From parenting concerns to child custody issues, you are irrevocably tied to your ex-spouse until your children are old enough to no longer need support or parenting plans. That lasting tie can sometimes create its own set of issues.

When you’ve gotten a divorce, often you would rather have as little contact with your ex as possible, depending on the reasons for the divorce. Unfortunately, when you have children, that is an unlikely scenario assuming you both want and can spend time with the children. Since you are stuck dealing with the ex, you may wonder exactly how long that will last.

Getting A Child Support Order in Washington

When you initially divorce, you and your soon-to-be-ex-spouse should work out a parenting plan that includes your ideas for how each of you will spend time with the children and who will pay child support. The support portion of the plan should consist of who pays which portions of the additional expenses related to the child or children. If you cannot hammer out an agreement, the court will decide these matters for you.

If you must have the court determine your child support and custody plan, each person is allowed to submit their ideas to the court for consideration. The court can then choose one of the submissions, compromise between them, or make an entirely different order. Regardless of what the court decides, the judge’s number one priority in determining support or custody issues is the well-being of your children.

A child support order in Washington will stay in full effect until the child turns 18 or graduates high school, depending on how the order is written. Sometimes, a child support order will extend beyond the child’s 18th birthday. Sometimes, the court will extend it due to special needs. Other times, the court will put a continuing education clause in the plan, which extends support while the child attends college up until the age of 23.

Modification of Child Support in Washington

Once you have a child support order in place, it will continue until your child is 18 or otherwise emancipated. However, there could be some circumstances that would merit a modification of that child support order. One factor that contributes to determining whether or not to modify a support order is how long it’s been since the order was issued.

If your child support order has been in place for less than a year, whoever petitions for a modification will have to show a substantial change in circumstances for the modification to be considered. Some changes that might merit consideration of the petition include a job loss, a medical emergency, or a new baby. However, suppose unemployment or underemployment is voluntary. In that case, you must prove there is a good reason for the decision for it to qualify as a substantial change in your circumstances.

Once the order has been in place for at least a year, you aren’t required to show that your circumstances have changed substantially. Instead, the court can decide to increase or decrease the amount of support based on hardship. In other words, the order could be modified if paying the support has caused a significant strain on your finances. The court also considers whether the amount of support needs to be increased to offset the custodial parent’s hardship.

Do You Need A Separate Order for Postsecondary Educational Support?

Sometimes the court includes a clause for postsecondary education support in the original child support order. This typically happens when both parents agree to have postsecondary support added as a portion of the child support plan. If the clause is contained within your initial support order, it should indicate how long past the age of 18 you will be responsible for paying the additional support.

At times, a separate order is created for postsecondary support. If it isn’t included in the original divorce files, the primary parent must petition the court for an order for postsecondary support. The petition for postsecondary support must be made before the child is 18 and the existing child support order ends.

Courts follow a simple formula to award child support, but postsecondary support is not as cut-and-dried. When the court is debating whether to allow postsecondary support, multiple case-by-case factors are considered. Here are some of the considerations.

  • Does the child rely upon the parents for their necessities like food, healthcare, and clothing?
  • What is the child’s age?
  • What were the plans the parents had for their children’s education when they were still together?
  • What are the child’s own desires, abilities, disabilities, aptitudes, and prospects?
  • Is the educational plan suitable for this child and the situation in general?
  • What are the parents’ education level, resources, and standard of living?
  • What kind and amount of support would the child have received if the parents had stayed together?

Postsecondary support typically includes items like tuition, rent, residence hall fees, health fees, books, supplies, health plans, and meal plans. However, they can be adjusted to include items like bed linens and tuition for graduate school. Postsecondary support is split between the two parents based on individual net incomes.

Are There Conditions to Postsecondary Support

Postsecondary support is conditional in the state of Washington. The child must actively be pursuing a course of study that matches their stated career goals. The classes must be taken at an accredited institution, and the student must remain in good academic standing by maintaining a minimum GPA or completing a specific number of credits successfully as set forth by the school. The child is also required to give both parents full access to all grades and academic records or automatically have their postsecondary support suspended.

Parental Responsibilities Regarding Postsecondary Support

If possible, the parents should pay tuition directly to the school. If that isn’t possible, the court can order that payments be made to the child if the child lives independently. If the child is living with one of the parents, the other parent may have to pay either the parent or the child directly. Unless there are extenuating circumstances such as a disability, a parent can’t be made to pay postsecondary support past the child’s 23rd birthday.

What About Emancipation

Emancipation is another factor that affects child support. A minor who is at least 16 years old and resides in Washington can petition the court for a declaration of emancipation. If the court grants their petition, it changes quite a few things regarding their relationship with their parents.

Parents would no longer be responsible for the financial support of an emancipated minor. They are no longer required to provide any care or supervision either. Once a minor becomes emancipated, the non-custodial parent is no longer required to pay child support.

An emancipated minor will have their own set of rights and responsibilities. They can sue and be sued, enter into contracts, and work and earn a living. They can act independently in business dealings and give consent for treatment in a healthcare setting.

Being emancipated does not allow the person to vote, drink alcohol, or possess firearms. It also doesn’t change their status as a minor regarding criminal laws.

When the minor files a petition of emancipation, they must attach a certified copy of their birth certificate to the petition, and they need to be prepared to pay a filing fee. There must be a notice of petition and notice of hearing served on the parents or guardians of the petitioner a minimum of 15 days before the hearing.

Emancipation is not guaranteed to be granted. If a parent, guardian, custodian, or someone from DCFS opposed the petition, the court should deny the petition. The exception to this is if the court finds clear and convincing evidence that emancipation is in the best interests of the child.

How the Aberdeen Law Firm Can Help With the Child Support Orders in Washington

In Washington State, child support is in effect until the child’s 18th birthday or until they finish high school, provided they finish high school before they turn 19. The child support order could sometimes continue beyond the 18th birthday. For example, if the child has special needs, the child support order could continue after the child is 18.

In some cases, a postsecondary educational order is issued that extends support beyond the 18th birthday and the end of high school. In these cases, parents are required to pay tuition, books, and living expenses like rent or residence hall fees. Parents who are paying for postsecondary educational support aren’t required to pay beyond the child’s 23rd birthday.

The child receiving postsecondary support must meet certain conditions, or they will forfeit the support. They must maintain a certain grade average, and they must take a given number of credits. They must also provide the parents with grades and record information.

Child support orders are negated if the child has achieved emancipated status. Emancipation can be granted to minors who are 16 years old and older. If the child has been emancipated, the parents no longer have the responsibility to care for, supervise, or pay support for the child. The child would now have the responsibilities and rights granted to an adult with a few exceptions.

Related Content: How is Child Support Calculated with Shared Custody in WA

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