Child Support Law

How Long Must Child Support Be Paid?

Supporting your children, both financially and emotionally, can be a lifelong endeavor. The court may determine the amount of support to be paid after a divorce, separation, or when the child is not living with both parents. Child support is a recurring financial obligation to support the costs of raising a child.

Child support laws and requirements can involve complex state family law questions. This page gives a broad overview of child support obligations with links to more detailed articles that can help you answer specific questions about your case. Family law is set by each individual state. Consult a family law professional in a city near you to give you the best advice about your individual situation.

When Are Children Considered Adults?

Absent unusual circumstances, child support generally continues until the child reaches the age of majority. Depending on the state you live in, the legal age of majority of your child will vary. For example, in Florida and California, if you are 18-years-of-age and older, you are considered to be a legal adult in the eyes of the law, and in those states, child support will end at age 18.

Mississippi recognizes anyone under the age of 21 to be a minor, and so child support will not end until age 21 in that state. However, there may be some exceptions. For example, in New York, even though the age of majority is 18, child support does not end until age 21. In other words, child support is generally required to continue until your child graduates from high school or turns 18, whichever is later.

Court-Ordered College Tuition

Some states allow for the courts to require parents to pay for college support. The courts may order support for a child's college education. College support may be required in addition to child support in certain instances.

Even if a state doesn't allow the courts to require additional educational support, parents may choose to include a college tuition provision in the child support agreement. The educational provisions listed in the parental agreement should generally define who pays for expenses, such as tuition, room and board, travel expenses, textbooks, and living expenses.

Special Needs and Disability

When the child has special needs, courts might order child support payments to continue beyond the age of majority. Court-ordered child support also may be extended when the child is mentally or physically disabled.

Emancipation

If a minor child has proven to the courts that they can live away from the family home and support themselves, then they may be granted emancipation from their parents. Minor children may request emancipation through the courts before they have reached their state's age of majority. Common reasons for emancipation include joining the military or getting married.

Emancipation in and of itself means that a minor has proven that they no longer need their parent's financial support. If a child has become emancipated, a child support obligation may be modified or terminated, depending on the circumstances.

Process for Terminating Child Support

Don't just stop making payments on your child support on your child's 18th birthday. Child support is part of a court order, a formal request to the court is generally required to terminate support obligations. The paying parent first needs to make a formal request to terminate child support payments citing the reason as the child reached the age of majority. Formally requesting to terminate required payments also is required if a child has become emancipated.

Child Support Modifications

You may be searching for information on ending your obligation to make child support payments due to financial hardship. Child support modifications are common, especially when a party's financial circumstances have substantially changed. However, modifications to child support agreements do not terminate the paying parent's financial obligations.

Can a Parent Limit the Amount of Future Child Support That Is To Be Paid to the Other (Custodial) Parent?

To limit the amount of future child support payments, the court considers the best interests of the child. In many cases, a disinterested Guardian Ad Litem would have to be appointed for the child and represent to the court that the best interest of the child would be to limit such future support payments. However, limiting future support would not likely be in the child's interests and such limitations are rare.

Whenever one parent has reason to believe that the child support payments should be changed, they may be able to petition the court for modified support orders. This could include a change in the parents' income, change in child custody plan, or change in financial needs of the child. Talk to your experienced family law attorney about how to get your monthly child support payments modified.