Stopping your child support payments can be as easy as pie or a complicated mess, depending on where you live. The rules in Illinois straddle the fence. In some cases, the process is effortless, but it could involve a trip back to court under certain circumstances.
When Your Obligation Ends
Illinois’ laws for emancipation – the point at which your child legally becomes an adult so support is no longer required – mirror those in many other states. The age of majority is 18, but if your child is still in high school, support can continue until she graduates or her 19th birthday, if this happens first.
A number of events can trigger early emancipation in Illinois, including your child getting married, enlisting in the military or simply moving out on her own to pay her own way. You can’t just stop paying support when any of these things happen, however. You’ll need a court order stating that she is indeed emancipated, and that support therefore ends. You'll have to file a motion with the court so a judge can decide, but if the issue is clear, and your ex doesn't oppose your motion, it could be just a formality.
Illinois courts have discretion to order continued child support through the college years, or even if your child is pursuing some other type of professional training that precludes her from earning her own living for a while after emancipation. According to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, Illinois is one of only about 18 states with laws that can require continued child support under these circumstances.
If Your Order Has a Termination Date
The ease of actually ending support when the appropriate time comes depends on your divorce decree or court order. Judges are supposed to include a date in these orders, specifying when child support ends. If your decree or order states that support stops on the date your child graduates from high school, you can simply stop paying at that time. You don’t have to take any further action. But if it says support ends at your child’s 18th birthday, and she’s still in high school when she turns 18, your ex can go back to court and ask that the order be extended until graduation.
If Your Order Doesn’t Have a Date
The situation becomes more complicated if your decree or support order doesn’t specify a definite date on which you can stop paying support. In such a case, you must continue making payments even though your child has graduated -- or has otherwise met the rules for emancipation -- because a valid support order is still in effect. You must go back to court and ask the judge to order termination of your child support obligation. If you don’t, you’ll owe support indefinitely until you do. You must also go back to court if you have more than one child and only the oldest has become emancipated. Your support obligation must be adjusted to cover one less child – otherwise you’ll continue to owe the entire amount.
The end of your support obligation doesn’t mean you no longer have to pay off arrears if you fell behind with payments at some point in time.