What Age Does Child Support End in Alabama

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Alabama law requires parents to provide financial support for their children. The child support obligation lasts until the child turns 19, finishes high school or is emancipated, whichever occurs last. This time period is extended indefinitely if a child is disabled and unable to support himself.

Divorce law differs dramatically among the states. Some permit fault divorce, while others allow only non-fault; some use the community property system for dividing marital property, while others use equitable division.

But one thing all states agree on is the legal requirement that parents provide their minor children with financial support. This is where child support payments come in, court-ordered monthly payments made by one parent to the other to provide for the kids' welfare. In Alabama, these normally terminate at age 19, but there are exceptions.

Alabama Child Support

Property issues can go either way, and child custody laws leave a lot to court discretion. But courts are certain to award child support in a divorce. Alabama courts routinely order the higher-earning parent to pay child support to help the lower-earning parent provide for the children.

Most states determine child support using a straight-forward formula that is fairly easy to apply. The state of Alabama uses a child support model called “income shares” to figure out which parent should pay child support and how much. This model estimates the total amount that would likely have been spent on the children had the family remained intact, then divides the amount between the parents proportionately, according to their incomes.

Alabama Child Support Guidelines

The income shares formula compares each parent's gross income as a percentage of their combined gross income. It factors in any obligations one or the other parent has to pay, including child support or alimony from a past relationship as well as amounts paid for work-related child care and health insurance. Application of the formula results in a child support amount within the child support guidelines.

The court must apply the child support guidelines unless it finds that the parties have entered a fair, written agreement establishing a different amount of support, or that the application of the guidelines would be manifestly unjust or inequitable for some reason.

Duration of Child Support

Generally, a party ordered to pay child support in Alabama must continue paying it until the child is no longer a minor. The amount may be modified by order of the court as the child grows older, based on her changing needs or the changing incomes of the parents. The child support obligation continues until the child turns 19 years old, unless she becomes emancipated earlier, e.g., marries, files for emancipation or joins the military.

However, this termination point for child support is not written in stone. An Alabama court can order child support for a child to continue in certain circumstances.

Grounds for Continuation of Support

Alabama law recognizes that sometimes it is inequitable to terminate child support when a child turns 19 years old. In those cases, the court will extend the child support obligation.

In Alabama, the main reason a court would extend a child support obligation is when the child is disabled. Child support does not terminate at the age of 19 if the child is unable to care for himself due to a physical or mental disability. In this case, a child support obligation can continue for the child's lifetime if the disability is one that cannot be cured and continues to prevent him from being self-sufficient financially.

Many states extend the period to pay child support if the child goes to college. In the case Ex parte Bayliss, 550 So.2d 986 (1989), the Alabama court ruled that the non-custodial parent may be ordered to assist with college expenses like tuition, books, room and board, and necessary fees. An application to extend child support because of college attendance should be made before the obligation has otherwise been legally terminated. However, this was overturned in the Alabama Supreme Court case Ex parte Tabor, 840 So.2d 115, 123-30 (Ala. 2002).

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About the Author

Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.