When Does Child Support End?

Not knowing when child support ends can be a concern for parents. If you're a parent who is receiving child support, you worry whether you have enough money to cover costs for your child. However, the paying parent is probably also anxious too. They may breathe a sigh of relief when they no longer have a legal child support obligation.

In most states, child support ends when the child is 18 years of age, goes off to college, dies, or gets married. But some states allow child support orders to continue beyond the 18th birthday in certain circumstances. For example, if the child is still living at home and attending high school full-time or if the child has special needs.

"When does child support end?" is an important question. There are steps to take if you want to terminate your court-ordered child support obligation. This is also true for the custodial parent who wants to continue receiving support. If you fail to act, you could end up making payments beyond the actual end date. Or you can risk getting cut off from support when you need it most.

Child Reaches the "Age of Majority"

Child support laws in all states allow 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 when the child graduates from high school, whichever occurs first. In other states, the age is 21. Because the age of majority varies so widely from state to state, it is important to check your state law to see which age applies and whether there are any other circumstances that would extend 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 their parents. A minor may become "emancipated" before the age of majority, when they get married, join the military, leave home, or becomes economically independent. Under such circumstances, a parent no longer has the obligation to provide child support.

Child Support Beyond the Age of Majority

There are a few circumstances where child support continues after a child turns 18. They include providing care for children with disabilities and, in some states, paying for college costs.

College Support

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 for college expenses.

For example, in New York, a family court judge can order child support and tuition and educational expenses for college until the child reaches the age of 21. But for child custody and visitation orders, the child is considered an adult once they turn 18.

If your child lives in a state that does not award college support, you may include provisions for it in a child support agreement. The family court can then adopt the child support agreement as a court order.

Support for Special Needs

State laws make exceptions for additional child support for parents who are caring for adult 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. The court recognizes that these parents have more expenses, including out-of-pocket medical expenses that health insurance does not cover.

Each state law may vary. In Ohio, for example, a parent needs to show the child support agency or the court prior to the child's 18th birthday that the child (1) had the disability before he/she turned 18 and (2) that the disability is the reason that the child cannot live alone and be self-supporting.

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 ask the family court judge for a child support modification.

A child support modification is a judicial order that can significantly reduce or increase the amount of support a parent gives or receives. The judge can order to lower child support payments or get more child support.

For example, the noncustodial parent has a new job with less pay and then requires a decrease in support from the court. They will not pay a lower amount of child support immediately. If a parent's income changes, they have to wait until the court orders a new amount after a hearing.

Child Support and Alimony/Spousal Support

When parents receive child support and spousal support, they might worry about the termination of child support. A person in this position likely wonders if they can support themselves when they lose child support. And they might wonder if they can increase spousal support. Like all family law matters, the answer depends on state law and your specific situation. You can consult with an attorney for more information.

Procedure for Ending Child Support

Child support payments do not end automatically. You must terminate child support to stop the obligation. 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.

In some states, the child support services agency will be tracking the child's 18th birthday or high school graduation date (as applicable). They may send both parties a notification that the termination date is approaching.

To find out whether your obligation to pay child support is ending, you can contact the child support services agency in your state for help in determining your child support end date. This may prepare you for whether you need to file a motion to terminate child support yourself or not. You can also speak with an attorney to discuss your specific rights and responsibilities.

If you owe remaining child support arrears on your case, then the court may terminate the ongoing support order but maintain an order for arrears payment until all funds are paid in full. Oftentimes, the court will consider "rolling over" the monthly payment amount that was paid for child support as the arrears payment. If the child support enforcement agency has placed a wage withholding order, it will continue for the arrears payment.

When Does Child Support End for You? Find out with an Attorney's Help

Figuring out when child support ends is crucial. Judges are bound by the laws of their particular state. It may be best to seek legal advice for your situation. Get started today by speaking with a family law attorney in your area with expertise in child support matters.

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Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • Some states allow you to set up child support with forms and court processes
  • You may need legal help to set up or modify child support arrangements
  • If there is conflict, an attorney can advise if the other parent’s actions are legal 

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Don't Forget About Estate Planning

Once new child support arrangements are in place, it’s an ideal time to create or change your estate planning forms. Take the time to add new beneficiaries to your will and name a guardian for any minor children. Consider creating a financial power of attorney so your agent can pay bills and make sure your children are provided for. A health care directive explains your health care decisions and takes the decision-making burden off your children when they become adults.

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