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How Long Do Parents' Legal Obligations to Their Children Continue?

While parents have the right to make important decisions about their children's lives, they also have certain legal obligations. Parents are legally required to support their minor children. That includes providing food, clothing, shelter, and basic care. Failing to do so can lead to neglect or abuse charges in most states.

Parental obligations typically terminate when a child reaches the age of majority, which is eighteen (18) years of age in most states. However, you may wish to check your state's legal ages laws to see if they vary from this standard. Parents who have children with disabilities may have their parental obligations last beyond the age of majority. Additionally, there are certain circumstances in which such obligations can be terminated prematurely.

Emancipation of Minors

One way in which parental obligations can be terminated before the age of majority is through emancipation. Emancipation is a legal process through which a minor assumes responsibility for his or her welfare. When a child becomes emancipated, the minor's parents are no longer legally obligated to support the child.

Minors who want to be emancipated must file a petition and meet certain state-specific criteria. When making an emancipation determination, courts often consider the best interests of the child and his or her level of maturity.

In some states, emancipation is automatic in certain circumstances, even though the minor is under the age of majority. For example, joining the armed forces or getting married can often lead to emancipation.

Divorce and Parental Obligations

Parental obligations do not end with divorce. In many states, divorced parents are required to pay child support in order to cover their children's basic needs. Generally, child support payments continue until the child reaches the age of majority. However, in certain circumstances, support obligations can be modified or even prematurely terminated.

In order to modify a child support arrangement, a parent generally must show that his financial circumstances have changed and that paying the previously established amount is no longer possible. Losing your job, being seriously injured, suffering a drop in income, or a change in marital status, can all make child support modification necessary.

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