Child support is a pivotal aspect of family law that ensures a child’s well-being following their parents’ separation or divorce. In the United States, it is usually managed by the legal system, requiring one parent to provide regular monetary assistance to the custodial parent of their children. A frequent question among parents in Washington state is whether child support ceases once the child turns 18. If you are a parent paying child support in Washington, it is crucial to understand the regulations on this obligation. This blog post will highlight what you need to know about child support payments beyond your children’s eighteenth birthday.
Provisions Regulating Child Support
An individual’s child support obligations should be viewed through the lens of the Revised Codes of Washington (“RCW”) 26.28.010. This provision stipulates that “except as otherwise specifically provided by law, all persons shall be deemed and taken to be of full age for all purposes at the age of eighteen years.” From this purview, an individual will normally be required to contend with their child support obligations until the child reaches the age of eighteen. However, as with most legal matters, the basic rule – set out above – may have exceptions. In certain instances, an individual’s support obligations would end before the child reaches the age of majority, where the child becomes emancipated, leaves home, or economically independent. However, just as an individual’s child support obligations can be attenuated, they may also be extended. This can occur through a court order for an extended maintenance period after the child reaches legal adulthood under a modification decree of maintenance under RCW 26.09.170.
Instances When Your Child Support Payment Extends Legal Adulthood
Child support payments in Washington state are complex, and knowing the rules after your child turns 18 can be confusing. This, however, does not exempt the legal obligation a parent has to ensure the welfare of their child. Parents are strongly advised to seek guidance from a family law attorney familiar with Washington State law to ensure their rights and responsibilities are adequately represented. That said, here are some cases where payment may be extended to legal adulthood;
1. Completion of High School
If a child is still enrolled in high school and lives with a parent or guardian, child support may continue until the child graduates or turns 19, whichever event occurs first. This provision acknowledges the reality that many young adults haven’t completed their high school education by the age of 18.
2. College or Vocational School Support
After a child turns 18, they can still receive child support if they attend college or vocational school full-time. Parents must pay for their child’s education until age 23 in Washington. The child must apply for child support in college, and schools must certify that they are attending college or a vocational program to qualify for support. If the child is not attending full-time and cannot demonstrate adequate progress and attendance, the court may terminate payments.
3. Support for Disabled Adult Children
If a child has a lifelong disability, the court may order child support payments to continue indefinitely. The court may order support payments to the child or a trust designated to manage the child’s care and expenses.
4. Child Support Enforcement after 18
Past-due payments can accrue interest and penalties if the parent’s order to pay child support fails. Washington’s Division of Child Support Enforcement (DCSE) program can help enforce child support orders. DCSE can do wage garnishment, tax refund intercepts, credit reporting, and property liens to ensure child support payments are made.
5. Extended Parenting Plan
After a child turns 18, parents can agree to an extended parenting plan that outlines financial support, college expenses, healthcare costs, and time-sharing. It can be a formal, written, or informal verbal agreement between the parents. The agreement should be in writing and signed by both parents to avoid discrepancies.
6. Petition to Extend Order
If none of the above conditions apply, parents can petition the court to extend the support order after the child turns 18. The court will evaluate the circumstances and decide if payments should continue or come to an end.
Modification of Child Support Orders
Child support orders are eligible for modification when there’s a substantial change in a parent’s circumstances. Loss of a job or receiving a reduced income can be a reason to request a child support modification to avoid missing payments. Similarly, the custodial parent can seek custody support modification if their child’s cost of living increases, such as if the child has medical issues or additional educational expenses.
What Happens When You Skip On Child Support Payments
Violating your child support order comes with legal consequences; therefore, it is critical to understand the implication of non-payment;
- In Washington, the Division of Child Support can fine up to $5,000, court proceedings, or even a driving license suspension. These may include wage garnishment, interception of tax refunds, bank account seizure, and even jail time.
- If you owe unpaid child maintenance that accumulated before the child turned 18, you may still need to fulfill past-due maintenance obligations even if your child has reached the age of majority. These payments may include medical, childcare, and other related expenses.
When navigating the legal and emotional challenges of child maintenance, it’s crucial to ensure that you understand the law and your responsibilities. While child maintenance payments typically cease when the child reaches adulthood, the details of when and how they end vary by state. If you’re a parent paying child support in Washington, it’s essential to remain informed about the state’s laws. Contact a qualified family law attorney at Cowlitz Law Group, PLLC, to help you get the best possible outcome in your child support case.