Divorced parents with young children have child support and custody obligations to fulfill. Both parties may wonder: “Will child support automatically stop at 18?”
The parent receiving the child support may have concerns about whether they will manage financially to cover their child’s costs when the support money discontinues. On the other hand, the parent paying the child support may feel anxious to gain some financial relief when the payments stop.
Most states consider the age of majority as the date when child support obligations get terminated. However, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, most states extend it to when the child turns 21 or older if they attend college or have disabilities.
“Will child support automatically stop at 18?” is a vital question for both parents, whether you are the custodial parent or the one covering the costs. Here’s all the relevant information to ensure you take the steps required if you still need child support or feel it’s time to end paying child support.
Will Child Support Automatically Stop at 18? The Age of Majority
All states have child support laws that allow support to discontinue when the child reaches the age of majority, meaning the child is no longer a minor. Children are no longer minors when they can make legal decisions independently.
In most states, the age of majority is 18, or when a child graduates from high school, whichever comes first. However, some states have set the age of majority at 19 (Alabama and Nebraska) or 21 for receiving child support in Mississippi.
Bear in mind that the age of majority applies only in cases where there aren’t other circumstances that would require extended support.
Exceptions for Paying Child Support Beyond the Age of Majority
As a divorced parent paying child support, you may look forward to the day your child support obligations end. Depending on the state, these typically end at 18 (or 19 or 21). Remember that this general rule does not foresee special circumstances or exceptions.
Here are the reasons that would require you to continue paying child support after your child reaches the age of majority:
- You have agreed that you should continue paying child support – Some parents have decided to continue to provide their child with support beyond the age of majority. These agreements often form part of their final divorce decree and are enforceable in most states. For example, two parents may agree to help their child with their tertiary education by sharing college costs.
- Life events requiring child support modifications – Some life events may require changes to the current life support arrangements. These can include changes to household income, injury, job loss, etc. The amount paid or received can increase or decrease significantly, depending on the judicial order. However, changes are not allowed before the court orders the new amount, which happens after a hearing. One example is if the noncustodial parent changes jobs and cannot continue paying an amount because they receive less pay. The court will review the circumstances and could order an immediate decrease in the amount paid for child support.
- When the state law requires continued support for the child’s education – In many states, either parent can request support for the duration of the child’s postsecondary education. The money can only be used for the purpose granted.
- To support a child with a physical or mental disability – In cases where a child has a disability, the court may rule that the noncustodial parent must continue to pay support after the child reaches the age of majority. When an adult child cannot earn a living, most states require parents to continue offering financial support. In most cases, the law provides one exception: the child had the disability before reaching the age of majority.
Can Child Support End Before the Age of Majority?
Yes, child support can end before the age of majority. However, this depends on the state law. These are the circumstances where child support terminates:
- The court ended the child support
- The child passes away
- The parent paying the child support passes away
- Emancipation through a court order, marriage, or enlistment into the military. Read more about what emancipation means for a minor in this article from FindLaw.
Ending Child Support Procedure
Will child support automatically stop at 18? Child support payments will not end automatically when your child turns 18. The obligation only ceases for you as the parent paying the support when you terminate it by making a termination request when your teen reaches the age of majority. It may also sometimes end earlier because of exceptional circumstances.
Some states do track the child’s age of majority or school graduation (whichever comes first). Both the noncustodial and custodial parents will receive notification of the approaching termination date.
Contact your state’s child support agency if you are unsure when your child support obligation ends or the required procedure. These agencies will provide the information about whether you must file a motion to terminate the child support.
A family law attorney can help you determine your rights and responsibilities as you prepare to terminate your child support payments.
Remember, if you have arrears in your child support payments, you still must pay them even if the court terminates the support order. You must pay all arrears in total, meaning that an existing arrears withholding order on your wage will remain in place until the amount is settled.
Essential Guide: Navigating Child Support Termination
Understanding when child support obligations end can be complicated, but here’s a simplified guide to help custodial and non-custodial parents navigate this significant milestone.
Actionable Tips for Both Parties:
- Know Your State Law: Each state has rules regarding the age of majority and special circumstances. Make sure you know what applies to you.
- Read Your Divorce Decree: Child support terms should be outlined here. It’s your go-to document for what you’ve both agreed upon.
- Track the Age of Majority: Mark your calendar for your child’s 18th birthday or high school graduation, whichever comes first, per your state law. Some states notify you, but keeping track of yourself is best.
- Consult a Family Law Attorney: Legal advice can clarify any complexities or changes in circumstances that could affect your child support terms.
For the Custodial Parent:
- Prepare for Financial Shift: If child support is a significant part of your income, start planning for its end. Create a new budget, and look into other financial aid or employment opportunities.
- Discuss with the Other Parent: If the support should continue due to college or special needs, initiate a conversation well before the termination date.
For the Non-Custodial Parent:
- File for Termination: In some states, you must file a motion to stop child support payments. Don’t assume it will happen automatically.
- Catch Up on Arrears: If you have overdue payments, these will still be due even if the current support obligation ends.
- Keep Records: Save all payment receipts and any correspondence about child support. You might need these for future reference.
- College Support: If your child goes to college, either parent can request an extension for educational expenses.
- Disability Support: For children with disabilities, consult your attorney about extended support requirements.
Navigating child support termination requires planning, open communication, and, often, legal advice. Take these actionable steps to make the process as smooth as possible.
Will child support automatically stop at 18? The answer is not always. States have different laws determining the termination of child support based on the age of majority and post-majority and the divorce agreement.
Some circumstances, like emancipation, may mean you will stop paying it before your child turns 18. However, in others, you may have to continue paying until they graduate from college. In some states, the termination automatically goes into effect when your child turns 18; in others, you must file a motion.
Speak to a lawyer if you are unsure when your child support ends, both as a custodial parent or as the paying parent. The information can ensure the financial support does not suddenly cut off when you still need it most as the custodian parent. For the paying parent, it can mean you don’t make payments past the termination date.
Will child support automatically end when my child turns 18?
No, it varies by state and your specific agreement. Always check your state law and divorce decree.
What happens if I have overdue child support payments?
You must still pay any arrears, even after your current obligations end.
Can child support extend beyond age 18?
Yes, especially for college expenses or if the child has special needs.
Do I need to file a motion to stop child support payments?
In some states, yes. Always consult your divorce decree and state law to be sure.
Can life events change child support amounts?
Yes, job loss, income changes, or special needs can lead to modifications. A court hearing is usually required.