Does The End Of School = The End of Child Support? Not So Fast…

Education costs
Your child has just graduated from high school, or maybe he or she has her 18th birthday coming up. Whatever milestone is within sight, if you are a parent who has paid child support over these last few years, you may be wondering: am I still obligated to provide support once my child is an adult?

In New Jersey, the answer is to this question is multi-layered. As a general rule, child support will end when the child “moves beyond the economic sphere” of the parents. What this means and how it can be determined depends on a number of factors, including:

Age: Yes, big changes can happen when a child turns 18 years old, but for many young adults, merely turning 18 does not automatically mean their need for support is over. For example, children who are 18 may still be seniors in high school, or they may be freshmen in college (or in-between, as in the case of recently graduated high school students). In short, age does matter, but it is rarely the only factor courts weigh when evaluating child support termination requests.

Job Status: At age 18. many young adults forgo higher education and instead enter the workforce. If this is the case for your child, it could be determined by the courts that support is no longer needed. For example, a child who graduates high school, does not go on to college, and obtains full-time employment as an auto worker earning the equivalent of $40,000 per year has probably moved beyond being financially dependent on his parents. In that case, the child will likely be considered legally emancipated and child support will end.

Education Status: If, however, that same high-school grad enrolls at Rutgers University full-time in the fall, the obligation to pay child support generally would not end, but could be reduced to reflect the fact that the child is not living at home with the custodial parent on a full-time basis. Agreements on how parents will share their child’s college costs (tuition and room & board) are typically separate and are not changed by child support modification. For more on how college factors in, see Does Child Support End the Need to Pay Child Support?

Potential for Earning: In some cases, an 18-year-old child may have graduated from high school, but is not attending college or vocational school at all, nor is the child working. Absent some medical or other extenuating reason for these circumstances, a judge could agree that support for the adult child should end.

Military Service: If at age 18, a child enlists in the U.S. military, most courts will agree that the newly minted servicemember has left their parents’ economic orbit and is emancipated. In that case, child-support obligation would end.

Marriage: If a child gets married and permanently moves away from the custodial parent’s residence, it is typically viewed that dependency upon parents for shelter and necessities has ceased.

Your Divorce Decree: Carefully check over your divorce settlement and child support order. For some parents, support orders may terminate automatically if your divorce decree specifies a date, age or circumstance when support stops.

Does your child fit into one of these categories? Wondering if you should apply for child support modification? Going through a divorce and wonder if termination language should be added to your settlement? We can help. Please contact us to schedule your initial consultation.