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

The duration of parental obligations may extend beyond the age of majority if a child is disabled or has special needs. There are also circumstances in which such duties can end before a child reaches the age of majority.

While parents have the right to make important decisions about their children's lives, they also have specific legal duties. Parents are legally required to support their minor children. When a child is born, their birth certificate names their parents. This marks the beginning of parental responsibility.

Parents have to take care of their child's welfare and needs. Supporting your children includes providing food, clothing, shelter, basic care, education, and medical care. Failing to provide for your children can lead to neglect or abuse charges in most states. Parents must ensure their child's physical safety and emotional well-being.

But how long do parents' legal obligations to their children continue? The following article explores this critical question.

The Duration of Parents' Legal Obligations: The Basics

In most states, parental obligations typically end when a child reaches the age of majority, 18 years old. But, check the laws of your state, as the age of majority can be different from one state to the next.

Many parents support their children after the age of majority, such as while the child attends college. The federal government expects parents to contribute to their children's education and calculates financial aid based on parental income.

Federal financial aid doesn't consider a student independent because a parent doesn't want to pay for college, even if the student no longer lives at home.

Emancipation of Minors

Emancipation is a way to end parental obligations before a child reaches the age of majority. The legal process allows a minor to assume responsibility for their own welfare. When a child becomes emancipated, their parents are no longer legally obligated to support them.

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 may lead to emancipation. If your child marries or joins the military, you're no longer legally responsible for their welfare.

Minors seeking emancipation must file a petition with the court and meet certain state-specific criteria. When making an emancipation determination, courts often consider the child's best interests and maturity level.

Divorce and Parental Obligations

Sometimes, parents don't live together. This is especially true after a divorce or separation. The court might need to decide who the child lives with. This is child custody. The parent with whom the child mostly lives is the custodial parent. They have full physical custody of their child. The other parent is the non-custodial parent.

The non-custodial parent often has visitation rights. This means they can spend time with their child even if their child doesn't live with them. The parents can decide on the specific schedule or set by a court order. The non-custodial parent usually must pay the custodial parent financial support through child support. This support covers food, clothing, health insurance, and child care. A child support order, entered by a court, determines the amount of child support that must be paid.

Child support guidelines can vary from state to state. For example, child support continues in New York until the child turns 21. In most other places, it ends when the child is 18. If a child is a full-time high school student when they turn 18, child support might continue until they graduate. If a child has special needs, the support could go on even longer, possibly for the rest of their life.

Once a minor is emancipated, the child support ends. This is because emancipated minors are expected to support themselves financially. Visitation rights also end with emancipation. The emancipated child can choose to spend time with their parents or not, like an adult.

How Long Do Parents' Legal Obligations Last? Talk to a Lawyer

The legal process of emancipation is confusing depending on the laws of your state and the type of parental status involved. If you're a minor seeking emancipation, it might be wise to speak with an attorney.

You may wish to speak to an attorney to fully understand the emancipation process, including parental rights and responsibilities. A family law attorney can give you helpful legal advice about your situation. They can tell you about state laws and legal rights. They can also provide valuable legal information. Lawyers can represent you in family court.

Contact a local family law attorney who can help answer your questions.

Was this helpful?

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

  • Minor children can go through the court process without parental consent
  • You may need legal help to understand local requirements and emancipation procedures
  • An attorney or a local legal aid office can provide more specific guidance 

Get tailored advice about seeking emancipation and ask a lawyer questions. Many attorneys offer free consultations.

Find a local attorney