Generally, states require child support to be paid until the child reaches the age of majority, i.e., when the child is no longer legally a child. States fairly uniformly extend a child's minority, or status as a child, due to continued high school attendance. Dropping out of high school can be grounds to terminate child support if the family court agrees that the child is functionally an adult. However, dropping out of school by itself is rarely enough to terminate support when the child is still a minor.
Age of Majority
States generally define the age of majority for child support purposes as the child's 18th birthday. However, if the child is still financially dependent and in high school, the age of majority is typically defined as the child's 19th birthday or high school graduation date, whichever comes later. There are some states, such as Minnesota, Oregon and Oklahoma, that raise the age of majority to 20 or 21 years of age as long as the child is still in high school, and the U.S. Virgin Islands raises the age to 22 if the child is a full-time college student attending an accredited institution.
Dropping Out Vs. Graduating
States that address school attendance specify a minimum age of majority, then raise that age a year or two if the child still attends high school. This means that child support must be paid until the child reaches the minimum age of majority, and must continue if the child reaches that age but is still dependent financially and still attending high school. The only exception is if the minor child meets certain statutory conditions that make him an adult, i.e., emancipated. If a child drops out of high school before reaching the minimum age of majority and does not meet the statutory requirements for emancipation, termination of child support typically requires a court order emancipating the minor and terminating support.
An emancipated minor is an individual younger than a state's minimum age of majority who is legally an adult. A minor child becomes emancipated either automatically, upon the occurrence of certain statutory conditions, or by court order. States are fairly uniform in their lists of statutory conditions that emancipate a minor. Generally, emancipation occurs automatically when a minor child graduates from high school, marries, joins the military or moves out of his parents' home and becomes financially self-supporting.
Petition for Emancipation
If a child drops out of high school but none of the statutory conditions for emancipation exist, or the child support order did not automatically terminate on schedule, the paying parent must petition the court to declare the child emancipated and allow termination of child support. Generally a petition for emancipation requires the name and age of the child, names of the parents and applicable statutory ground justifying emancipation. The paying parent may stop paying support only after the court declares the minor emancipated and terminates support.