Graduation from high school may or may not end your obligation to pay child support. It depends on two main factors, the statutory requirements in the state the child resides and any contractual obligations you agreed to in writing, usually during a divorce proceeding. Generally, by the time a child graduates from high school, he becomes an adult in the eyes of the law, thereby terminating your duty to pay child support. But there are many exceptions to the general rule.
When your child becomes emancipated, he becomes an adult in the eyes of the law. As the Children's Rights Council explains, emancipation, also known as the age of majority, enables a son or daughter to be freed from parental control and a parent to be freed of legal responsibility for the son or daughter. Often, emancipation will end the obligation to pay child support. But emancipation does not always take effect when your child graduates from high school.
In states such as Arizona, Connecticut and Delaware, 18 is defined as the age of majority. When a child reaches 18 in these states, child support ends unless it is superseded by a written agreement between the parents to continue payments for a longer period of time. In Indiana, the age of majority is 21. In the District of Columbia, it is also age 21, or when a minor becomes self-supporting by reason of marriage, employment or military service. Some statutes are quite elaborate. For example, Minnesota defines the age of majority as 18, although the age is raised to 20 if the child is still attending secondary school. Additionally, children over 20 who can't support themselves because of a disability are still defined as minors and entitled to child support.
The Franklin Law Firm in Massachusetts offers a sample written agreement that provides for continued child support past the time of high school graduation. For example, such an agreement could provide for child support until the age of 23, if a child was dependent upon you for child support and enrolled in college. As long as the child was successfully attaining a college education, his age of emancipation would be triggered by graduating from college or turning 23, whichever came first. The agreement could include other triggers of emancipation, such as marriage or joining the military.
Petitions to Terminate Child Support
Most states require you to take legal action in the court that initially ordered child support to terminate your obligations. In Alabama, for example, you must file a sworn statement with the clerk's office stating that your child has reached the age of majority and you have paid all previously owed support payments. In Kentucky, you must furnish the Department of Health and Family Services with your child's birth certificate and, if applicable, your marriage license, to terminate a child support order. However, in states such as Georgia, child support obligations are automatically terminated once the child reaches the age of majority.
References & Resources
- National Conference of State Legislatures: Termination of Support -- Age of Majority
- The Divorce Collaborative LLC: Child Support in Massachusetts -- When Does It End?
- Cornell University Law School: Legal Information Institute: Emancipation of Minors
- DadsDivorce.com: Child Support Termination Procedures by State
- Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images