A common question for many family law practitioners is, “When does my child support obligation end?”
Child support is money paid by the non-residential parent to the residential parent to aid in the financial support of the parents’ children. The Courts base child support on two main factors, how much income both parents make annually, and how much time each parent regularly spends with the child or children during the year. Depending on the Judge, a Court may permit two parents to form an agreement for no child support; but Judges typically will not issue orders for no child support to be paid, in contested cases. The Court’s general position on child support is: if you make a child, you are responsible for that child. Child support can be ordered by the Family Services Division, or by a Judge; however, if an order previously issued by the Family Services Division (FSD) comes under the Court’s jurisdiction through another legal action, then the Court will take over jurisdiction, as the Court has a higher authority.
Child support is generally ordered to continue until the child becomes emancipated. Child support may be modified based upon a new change of circumstance, such as a change in custody, financial hardship or the paying parent’s disability status, but it is extremely unlikely for a Court to order child support payments to actually end before emancipation. Emancipation occurs when a child reaches the age of 18, becomes married, joins the military, or is found by a Court to be emancipated before age 18. Child support must also be paid for adult children who remain in school, until they are 21. The adult child in school must essentially go straight from high school and college to remain eligible for child support. For example, if an adult child graduated from high school at 18 but did not enroll in college until they are 20, child support would not continue past the age of 18, nor could it be started again if the child re-entered school. To be eligible for child support past the age of 18, the adult child must be enrolled in school, full time, before October first of that school year. The adult child must provide to the paying parent a statement of admission, and the paying parent is entitled to request copies of the child’s semester grades. The adult child must maintain a passing GPA for all coursework. On rare occasions, child support may be continued for an adult child who is not in school, due to a handicap or disability that makes it impossible for the adult child to live on his or her own and support his or herself.
The Court and the Family Support Division will not keep track of when a child turns 18 or becomes emancipated, so the paying parent must proactively file a modification to terminate the support obligation. I have seen many instances in which the paying parent was still paying child support well into the child’s 20s, simply because no one had informed the Court or the Family Support Division that the child was over the age of 18. While the Modification is pending, child support must continue to be paid. Once the modified judgment is finalized the paying parent may stop paying child support, not before. However, terminating child support based upon a child’s age and emancipation is relatively straightforward and, in my experience, does not take very long. Please remember that child support is not the rent you pay to see your child, and a parenting plan is only enforceable for a minor child; if your adult child chooses not to visit you while he or she is in college, that is their choice to make.