It’s a well-circulated rumor that child support automatically ends when the supported child turns 18 years old. For some, that magic number holds true, but not for everyone, of course.
The age at which a parent no longer has to pay child support varies from state to state and depends on several factors:
Ex-partners can either mutually agree on splitting time, responsibilities, and the costs of raising a child or take the matter to their legal advisors and a judge if they can’t. Typically, a child will spend a bit more time with one parent than the other. Even in the most balanced custody splits–after all, 365 days doesn’t split evenly.
The parent caring for their child the majority of days in the year is deemed the custodial parent, even when that “majority” is the slightest fraction more than the other parent’s care. The other parent is, then, the non-custodial or secondary parent. Typically, the non-custodial parent or the parent earning higher wages pays child support to the custodial parent.
Depending on the state laws where you live, both joint custody and child support could end at age 18, 19, or 21. The age your state considers a child an adult is called the “age of majority.” Your state’s age of majority could change anytime, so it’s always best to consult an attorney in your area for updated information on child support laws.
Child support termination doesn’t just depend on your child’s age. Often, a child’s education plays a role.
In many states, if the child is still in primary (elementary through middle) or secondary (high) school by the time they reach the age of majority, then child support continues. In these circumstances, child support is terminated once the child:
Requiring non-custodial parents to pay child support through the college years is a hotly debated topic. In short, some states demand it while others don’t, and some states let the courts decide on a case-by-case basis.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the age at which a child can emancipate themselves from the control of a parent (you guessed it) depends on the state. California allows teens as young as 14 to emancipate themselves. Mississippi has no minimum age requirement. However, most states also require certain criteria to be met that prove that emancipation is in the child’s best interest.
Then, there is automatic emancipation. In such cases, the child has met specific criteria and is automatically free from parental control. For example, in Texas, a child is automatically emancipated if they have reached the age of 18 and are married. In Colorado, they are emancipated if they’ve joined the military.
Children with special mental or physical needs may lack funding to help them live a more normal life well into adulthood. In these instances, courts may order child support until the child can take care of themselves physically and financially or until the end of their lives.
For the non-custodial parent who missed a few child support payments here and there over the years, their child support payments stop only when they have repaid what they owe (arrears) plus any interest or fees added on as a penalty. Alternatively, the court can order payments to stop at a specified time or amount.
Parents may decide to pay beyond the age of majority for any number of reasons. Safety, shelter, and job security are often motivating factors.
For example, some offer to assist in paying for college tuition because it’s an investment in a better future and job opportunities for their child. Living expenses, such as monthly rent or grocery money, top some parents’ lists of essentials. Some would rather help with their child’s cell phone bill to keep them safe and connected to family. And others offer to take care of car payments or insurance for safety and work-related reasons.
When it’s almost time to stop child support payments, a co-parent should seek legal counsel for support with local laws and procedures. In most states, an attorney must file a motion with the original issuing court to stop payments.
Child support payments can last decades, so it’s best for co-parents to devise a good plan for paying. No co-parent wants to forget to pay or have to hunt for evidence of having paid. A child support app is a co-parent’s best friend in this sense.
With a child support app, two parents (who may not even be on speaking terms after a fresh divorce) can peacefully and politely pay child support. They can request their percentage for those shared and pesky little bills that pop up but aren’t covered by child support funds (child care, medical expenses, etc.). Most importantly, they can make sharing and documenting expenses and information easier on co-parents.