While individual states may vary as to how they calculate child support, one constant is that states recognize that both parents have the legal duty to provide their children with basic necessities and to provide for their needs. The duration of a child support order depends on a number of factors.
Age of Majority
Most states require the child to be supported until he or she has reached the age of adulthood or majority. This is 18 in most states. States recognize that a parent’s responsibility to support a child may only extend into the time when the child can support himself or herself.
However, most states permit child support to continue until the child graduates from high school or finishes an accredited course of instruction that will lead to a high school diploma or its equivalent. These rules often allow the parent to stop paying child support if the child reaches the age of 19 and still has not completed the course of study.
While a parent generally has a duty to support his or her children, a child may bypass this obligation through emancipation. The emancipation of a minor is the law’s recognition that a child is now seen as an adult in the eyes of the law.
Emancipation may occur through a formal process, such as the child seeking emancipation through the filing of a petition with the court. Another way that a child may become emancipated is if he or she gets married. States may require the parent who wishes to modify the order or have it terminated due to marriage or emancipation to file a court hearing to establish why the support order should be changed or terminated.
Many states allow for post-secondary or post-minority support. Such support is often determined in a different manner than the support of an actual “child.” For example, child support formulas and tables may not be used. Instead, the court may evaluate the reasonable items that a college student will need.
Additionally, the state may require the parent to show that the child is a college student and that he or she needs additional support. The state may have a law regarding the various factors that the court must consider when determining whether a post-secondary support order is appropriate.
For example, the court may be required to assess the child’s age, his or her educational needs, the child’s aptitude and prospects, the parents’ educational levels, the parents’ expectations of the child and the parents’ resources.
Often, the parent must have the provision regarding post-secondary support included in the court order. A court order acquired by a child support agency may not include such a provision. In this case, the parent would have to have the original order modified to provide for post-secondary support.
States have additional rights and limitations regarding post-secondary support. For example, the paying parent may be able to require the educational institution to send grades and school reports directly to him or her. Additionally, the student may be required to provide evidence of good standing and maintain a certain grade point average.
Agreement of the Parties
The parents may enter into their own agreement regarding the post-secondary support of the child. Such parents may ask the court to enter the order. If the court finds that the order is reasonable, the parents will be bound to it like a contract. However, if one of the parents violates the terms of the agreement and the judge’s order, he or she may be required to attend a motion for contempt hearing to inform the court why he or she should not be required to be held in contempt for willfully violating the terms of the judge’s order.
Some states may permit ongoing child support after the child reaches the age of majority if the child is physically or mentally handicapped. Courts recognize that such children require ongoing care and treatment and may order child support to be enforced well past the physical age of adulthood.
Even if the child reaches the age of majority and the legal responsibility stops to pay ongoing child support, the parent may still be paying for many years after this point if he or she was behind on child support.
Many states have extended periods for the statute of limitations regarding the collection of child support. For example, a state may have such a statute that permits the child support agency or parent ten years to collect on a payment that was past due.