Does Child Support Continue After 18?

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by Chris Torrone

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12.28.2022

In divorce, one of the most important questions we need to tackle is how child support payments will work. Minor children depend on the love, guidance, leadership, and financial support of their parents. And a deficit in any of these areas can have long-term negative effects on their well-being and their growth and development throughout life. 

Some questions that eventually arise are “How long do I make child support payments?” Or, “How long will I receive child support?” “Will my child continue to receive support once they reach 18?” Does my child support obligation continue while my child is in college?” Let’s dive in and find out the answers to these questions now. 

Small children benefiting from child support

Age of Majority

In Washington State, 18 years of age (eighteenth birthday) is considered the age of majority. Once they’ve crossed their 18th birthday, they are legally able to vote, take on military service, and do most things adults do legally. In this way, they are no longer seen as dependents, and therefore, no longer able to receive child support payments. 

Exceptions

There are exceptions to this rule, namely when a young adult is still in high school at the age of 18 or even afterward, sometimes during post-secondary education (university or trade school), in the case of certain cognitive or physical disabilities (special needs), or with other considerations.

This decision will be up to the courts to decide based on current child support guidelines and child support laws, available information, and their own professional discretion. Ultimately, they will favor the well-being of the child or adult dependent. 

High School

Parents make continued child support payments until the child’s eighteenth birthday or until their adult child graduates high school, whichever is later. Oftentimes, the child turns 18 several months before graduation. Of course, it would not be ideal for your child to stop receiving support while they’re still in school. This could hurt the entire family.

Child support matters for their continued health and success. This final stretch of support will help the custodial parent maintain present quality of life for their adult child and allow them to focus on school and their plans for the future. 

Young adult benefiting from child support during college

College Years

Not every young adult goes to college. If they simply head out into the working world, whether they live on their own or remain at home for a time, child support payments will cease. Their care and provision are then entirely in their own hands, besides what support the family may offer of their own accord. 

However, Washington State frequently orders continued support during any form of post-secondary education, including community college, four-year universities, technical and vocational training, or any specialized instruction aimed at strengthening the future prospects of the young adult. 

Sometimes, parents and courts decide to include specific measures for child support during post-secondary education in the original support order when they divorced. If not, either (custodial parent or non-custodial parent) or both parents need to petition for it prior to the child’s 18th birthday or HS graduation, whichever comes later. 

Importance of Support During the College Years

It may seem like a lot to some parents, but supporting your kids during this time is a huge help for young adults while they’re working toward building their future with ongoing instruction. College expenses add up quickly. Scholarships, grants, and loans certainly help. But they don’t cover it all. They need food, healthcare and medical expenses, dental insurance, transportation, books and supplies, practical daily needs and more.

Additionally, even after loans and scholarships kick in, there can be educational expenses from their college education that remain. You don’t want them to reach for credit cards and start off in life in a bad position by overspending and running up debt. 

Whether they are a full-time student, or engaged in other kinds of educational programs, making ongoing child support payments to benefit your adult child in college will help them establish themselves as strong, skilled, capable adults when they leave school. This vital period of time in their life is key to their growth and for building the foundation they need for a good life. Child support, along with your love and guidance, is the right combination to achieve this.

Requirements and Standards for Post-Secondary Support

A support order for post-secondary payments isn’t guaranteed. It is neither mandatory nor automatic. Each parent must do the work required to see it though. It is also important to note that students must comply with any factors stated by the court for continued payment. If they fail to do so, the judge may revoke their access to post-secondary education child support. Also, unless there are considerations for special needs, the judge won’t order support for post-secondary education past the age of 23. 

When determining justification for continued child support during these years, the court takes into account several factors. Some of these include:

  • Age of the child
  • The child’s needs
  • the child’s prospects
  • the expectations of each party for their children when the parents were together (married)
  • abilities or disabilities
  • desires
  • aptitudes
  • the nature of the post-secondary education or training
  • standard of living
  • the parents’ level of education
  • current and future resources
  • and more. 

Remember that support may continue in cases where disability and special needs play a key role in the decision. Essentially, if an adult dependent is mentally or physically incapable of caring for themselves (disabled child), an order for support may continue indefinitely, or at least until disability is no longer a factor. 

Older children benefiting from child support.

In Closing

As you can see, there is a lot to consider when it comes to child support after the age of 18. You’ll want to talk about these things early on and come to an agreement so no one is surprised down the road. Discuss everything with a good family law attorney. Get all your questions answered. Read up on the subject and always put the needs and well-being of your children first.

With some forethought, open communication, professional counsel, and wise planning, divorced parents should be able to put together a clear plan for the care and well-being of their child, no matter what season of life they’re in.  

Torrone Law helps individuals and families make sense of divorce and child support. Torrone works on your behalf to bring you resolution and peace of mind during these often confusing and difficult seasons, so you can build a safer, stronger future. Connect with us to learn more and schedule your consultation today. 

To learn more about child support after the age of 18, check out our frequently asked questions below. 

FAQ

Is child support required after my child turns 18?

This isn’t always a straight-forward yes or no answer. There are several factors involved. Usually 18 is the cutoff for support. But if the dependent is disabled or dealing with special needs, there may be an order for additional support, either indefinitely or until the special need no longer exists. Also, if the dependent is still in high school for a time, support will continue until graduation.

Do I need to pay child support during my son’s or daughter’s college years?

If they are attending college, vocational training, or other specialized instruction, the court may issue orders for support during these years. Several factors play a role in this decision, including current income, available financial aid or loans, quality of life, the child’s abilities and aptitudes, and more. 

Can we plan for support beyond 18 before this day arrives?

Yes! In fact, this is encouraged. You and your ex can plan for this and include instructions in the original divorce and child care documents. It’s best that you don’t wait until just before graduation to figure these matters out. 

Where can I go for information about child support?

Talk to your lawyer. Read through information on Washington State’s available documentation and official sites. You may also ask representatives of the court for clarification on certain matters, but your attorney will probably be your best helper. 

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