The age of 18 has a reputation for being the magical number when child support ends, but it doesn’t always happen this way. Several different factors can muddy the waters and it’s not uncommon for a parent to pay support beyond this age. Whether you’ll have to depends on your state’s unique rules. Personal factors can make a difference as well.
Age of Majority
The age of majority, also called the age of emancipation, is the cutoff point for child support unless other circumstances exist. This is 18 in most states, but in Alabama, Colorado, Nebraska and Indiana, it’s 19. In Mississippi, New York and the District of Columbia, the age of majority is 21. These ages typically only apply if your child has graduated from high school. Otherwise, you may have to pay until her next birthday or she graduates, whichever happens first. If your teenager happens to be working, this usually has no effect on your support obligation one way or the other. You can’t stop paying if she’s working full time but hasn’t yet reached your state’s age of majority, and you don’t have to keep paying past the age of majority if she can’t find a job. But this doesn’t hold true in all jurisdictions. For example, if your child becomes self-supporting before age 21 in the District of Columbia, she’s emancipated.
Special Rules for Disabled Children
Child support laws for terminating support at a certain age assume that your child is physically and mentally capable of caring for and supporting herself when she reaches adulthood. If your child is disabled, support will continue past her 18th birthday or whatever the cutoff age is in your state. Your support order is typically open-ended in this case, lasting until she recovers or until her death.
Children Who Attend College
Whether support should be continued while a child goes to college is a hotbed of debate. State laws vary a great deal on this issue. Some states prohibit post-secondary education support, whereas others require it by statute. Still others decide the issue on factors unique to each family. If your child is planning to attend college, talk with a local lawyer to find out exactly what the rules are in your jurisdiction.
Support Sometimes Ends Sooner
Emancipation means that your child has achieved some milestone that marks her as an adult. Normally, this is the age of majority, but emancipation can sometimes happen sooner. In Texas, she’s emancipated when she marries if she does so before age 18. Colorado law considers her emancipated if she enters the military and this rule supersedes her age. Most states allow teenagers to file petitions with the court to emancipate themselves after they reach age 16 and if they can prove they can support themselves. This would also terminate your support obligation.