Not knowing when child support ends can catch you off guard, especially if you're the parent who is receiving the child support. In most states, child support ends when the child reaches age 18. Some states, however, allow child support to continue beyond 18 in certain circumstances, such as if the child is still living at home and attending high school, or if the child has special needs.
Moreover, in all states, you must take additional steps to terminate your court-ordered child support obligations or face paying or receiving payments beyond the actual child support end date.
While specific guidelines vary from state to state, child support generally ends when the child reaches the state age of majority, goes off to college, dies, or gets married.
Child Reaches the "Age of Majority"
Legal guidelines in all states allow child support to end when the child reaches the age of majority. The "age of majority" refers to the legal age established under state law when an individual is no longer a minor and can make certain legal decisions on their own behalf.
In most states, child support ends when a child turns 18 or graduates from high school, whichever occurs first. In other states, the age may be 21. Because the age of majority varies so widely from state to state, it is important to check the laws of your particular state to see which age applies, and whether there are any other circumstances that would extend child support.
Child Becomes "Emancipated"
The term "emancipation" refers to a court process through which a minor becomes self-supporting and no longer requires the financial support of his or her parents. A minor may become "emancipated" before the age of majority, when he or she gets married, joins the military, leaves home or becomes economically independent. Under such circumstances, a parent no longer has the obligation to provide child support.
Learn more about Emancipation of Minors.
Child Support Beyond the Age of Majority
Some states allow child support to continue even after the age of majority when the support is used to pay for a child's education, such as to attend colleges, universities and post-secondary institutions. Moreover, if a child lives in a state that does not award college support, a parent may include provisions for it in their child support agreement.
Learn more about Child Support and College Expenses.
Support for Special Needs
Courts make exceptions for additional child support for parents who are caring for children who are disabled or who have special needs. Since courts often look at disability in terms of economic hardship, a parent is usually allowed to receive support -- even beyond the age of majority -- to adequately care for a disabled or special needs child.
Child Support Modification
Sometimes life events such as job loss, injury, or change in marital status or household income may call for a change in the current child support arrangement. When this happens, parents may seek a child support modification order to help lower child support payments or get more child support. A child support modification is a judicial order and while it does not end child support obligations outright, it can significantly reduce or increase the amount of support a parent gives or receives.
Learn more about Child Support Modification.
Procedure for Ending Child Support
Child support payments do not end automatically. The person who is obligated to make child support payments must request for their child support obligation to end once the child reaches the age of majority or a minor child becomes emancipated.
To find out whether your obligation to pay child support is ending, you can contact the child support agency in your state for assistance in determining your child support end date, or speak with an attorney to discuss your specific rights and responsibilities.
Learn more about Child Support Help.
When Child Support Ends: Learn More from a Local Family Law Attorney
Figuring out when formal child support orders end is crucial. Judges are bound by the laws of each individual state and it is best to seek legal advice for your specific situation. Get started today by speaking with a family law attorney in your area with expertise in child support matters.