School’s Out: Is Your Child’s Support Coming To An End?

do divorced parents need to pay grad school tuition?

As your child prepares to graduate from high school, it’s a time of big transitions and happy celebrations. And for parents who receive child support, it’s also a time to naturally wonder: will child support continue once your child moves on from high school into the world of adulthood?

To start finding the answer this question, the first place to look is your divorce settlement and/or existing child support order. Did you and your former spouse come to an agreement as to the age of your child, date and/or circumstances for child support to terminate? If your divorce was years ago, you may have forgotten that your decree even contained this information. Go over your documents to see what directives they may contain.

If no such language exists, you will need to look to New Jersey’s updated child support laws for guidance.

Child Support Automatically Terminates At Age 19

In 2017, a new child support law went into effect that dramatically changed the process of child support termination for older children. Under old rules, the end date for child support was extremely fluid and required the paying parent to go to court to make the case for why support should be terminated. Under the new rules, child support automatically terminates upon the child’s 19th birthday, unless the parent who receives the support (that’s you!) can prove that certain conditions are present.

Here is what you can expert:

  1. A notice of child support termination is mailed to both parents sometime before the child turns age 19 — typically six months before the child’s birthday.
  2. The notice serves as an alert that child support is set to end on the child’s birthday, and also explains the limited number of exceptions that will allow the support to continue.
  3. As the custodial parent, you must submit documentation that demonstrates the child meets at least one acceptable ground for continuing support. These grounds include:
  • The child is enrolled in high school, a vocational school, college, or other secondary and post-secondary program.
  • The child has a physical and/or mental/intellectual disability.
  • The existing child support order states a different age or date for termination. For example, the child support order signed at the time of the parents’ divorce may state that child support is to terminate at age 21. If this is the case, the courts would continue to respect this agreement.

In the past, it was the paying parent who had the burden of requesting termination. This is no longer the case. It is now the custodial parent’s obligation to submit the request for payments to continue. After the courts review any submitted information, both parents receive another mailing letting them know if the request to continue support has been approved or denied.

The paying parent should wait until they receive confirmation of termination before stopping payments.

What about age 18? 

When a child turns 18, they do legally become an adult, but in the eyes of New Jersey family law, turning 18 does not automatically mean a child’s need for support is over. For example, many young adults are still seniors in high school and living at home when they turn 18 years old. It is largely for this reason that New Jersey established 19 as the cut-off age.

However, some 18-year-olds may achieve enough independence that they are considered emancipated from their parents (“Beyond the sphere of influence of their parents.”) When a child is emancipated, child support is no longer needed and can the paying parent can apply to terminate it. Emancipation can occur for any of the following reasons:

Job Status: At age 18, some 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. The child will likely be considered legally emancipated and child support will 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.

Do college students receive less support? 

If your high-school grad will enroll at Rutgers University full-time in the fall and live on campus, you may be wondering what happens to your support amount. In general, support payments may be reduced when a child no longer lives full-time with their custodial parent and food and shelter needs are met through college room and board payments. This will be the responsibility of your ex to seek the modification. Amounts are not automatically lowered.

Important note: College tuition cost sharing and child support payments are NOT the same thing. The courts are emphatic about maintaining the separateness of these two things. So just because your ex may be footing some or most of your child’s college tuition costs, that does NOT mean they can stop making child support payments. If payments stop without a formal agreement or order, you can take your ex to court for nonpayment. For more on how college factors in, see Does Child Support End the Need to Pay Child Support?

What are your questions about your child’s support as they get ready to graduate? With so many changes on the horizon, it’s a good time to meet with a family law attorney to understand how your child support could change. To schedule a consultation to discuss your rights and options, please call us at 888-888-0919, or click the button below.

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