Child custody is typically the most time-consuming aspect of any divorce. Every situation is different, but generally children of divorced parents will spend equal time with each parent on a set schedule, or they will live with one parent and may or may not have visitation time with the other. During divorce case proceedings, the court will determine if one parent will need to pay child support to the other. A judge will consider several factors in making a child support determination, such as the reason for the divorce, the financial situations of the parents, and the children’s needs.
Child Support Past Age 18
Parents who pay child support need to fully understand their custody agreement and their payment obligations. Generally, child support payments stop once the child reaches the age of majority. State law dictates the age of majority, but it is usually 18 years old. This is the age the law deems children capable of making their own life decisions; however, in some child custody and child support agreements, child support may extend past age 18.
Many states dictate child support stops once the child reaches the age of 18 or graduates from high school. Some states have specific laws requiring child support to continue past the age of 18, and some states mandate that child support continue until the dependent reaches 21 years old. A judge may also require child support payments to continue if the child attends school, even through college. Some states require child support payments to continue through the child’s educational career, while parents in other states may need to argue for support to continue past age 18 to cover educational costs.
Aside from the child reaching the age of majority or otherwise meeting the requirements set forth in the child support agreement, the only other events that would cause child support to end would be the child’s death or legal emancipation. A minor may apply for legal emancipation before reaching the age of majority if he becomes economically independent. Most states have specific requirements for emancipation, but generally minors may become legally emancipated after joining the military, getting married, or otherwise earning enough money to fully support themselves. Once a child obtains legal emancipation, parents are no longer obligated to pay child support.
The court generally views special needs as an economic hardship and will adjust child support arrangements. If necessary, payments will continue past the child reaching the age of majority to adequately care for their condition.
Modifying or Ending Child Support
If you are the support-paying parent, it’s vital that you understand your child support agreement so you can meet your legal obligations without paying more than necessary, or paying for longer than necessary. In some cases, a major life event such as a severe injury, job change, change in marital status, or other major expense could lead to a modification of your child support agreement. Changing a child support agreement requires a judicial order and may lead to lower or higher child support payments, depending on the situation.
It’s vital to remember that child support payments do not automatically stop. The support-paying parents must make a formal request for his obligation to end once the child has met the requirements for ending support set forth by the child support agreement. If you’re unsure about the status of your child support agreement or aren’t sure when your obligation ends, reach out to a family law attorney to review your agreement.