S. Scott Burkhalter, Lawyer

Divorce:  Paying for College in Washington State 

In Washington State, interestingly, married parents have no legal obligation to pay for their children's post secondary, college education.  That obligation, however, takes a different turn when the parents have a Court ordered child support order in place.  When it comes to divorced parents with a child support order in place, it is more than likely the Court will order the parents to contribute to the child’s college education.  In making such an order and determination, the Court considers the following factors:

Source:  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.


There are many approaches when the Court considers how the parents will contribute to a child's post secondary education.  Here are a few approached I have seen in my experience:  (1)  The child pays 1/3, the mother pays 1/3 and the father pays 1/3; (2) The child pays 1/3 and the parents pay the remaining 2/3 equally; (3) The child pays 1/3 and the parents pay the remaining 2/3 in proportion to the parents' incomes; (4) the parent's pay equally, (5) the parent's pay in proportion to the parents' incomes. Other consideration are college accounts established for the child, financial aid available, and student loans.