Child support obligations are based on state law. The general rule is that the parental support obligation terminates at majority. In most states, the age of majority is 18, although in some states it is later. Some states impose continuing support obligations on the parents of adult children if the child is disabled or in school.
Many states, such as Alabama, authorize courts to order parents to financially support their child's post-secondary education even after he reaches the age of majority. Other states, such as Alaska, specifically forbid courts from issuing such orders, while many other states have not enacted legislation addressing the issue one way or the other. Mississippi authorizes courts to order parents to provide educational support until their child reaches the age of 21, however; this is because the age of majority in Mississippi is 21.
Courts in some states are entitled to order a parent to continue to provide financial support for a physically or mentally disabled child even after he reaches the age of majority. Arizona, for example, authorizes its courts to order child support payments to a custodial parent, to a legal guardian or directly to the child. Connecticut allows courts to order child support payments in favor of a parent who supports a disabled child who lives with him, until the child turns 21. Many states, such as Kansas and Michigan, have no provisions for child support payments to disabled children who have reached the state age of majority.
Parents may enter into contractual agreements that obligate one parent to provide financial support to a child after the age of 18. This type of arrangement is particularly common when the child is physically or mentally disabled. As long as the agreement meets the requirement of a valid contract under state law, it can be enforced in the same manner as any other contract--by filing a lawsuit.
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If a court orders a parent to pay child support payments, the payment obligation continues until it is paid in full, or the statute of limitations expires without the other parent taking legal action to enforce the obligation. If the child reaches the age of majority with child support payment still in arrears, past child support obligations are still enforceable, although depending on state law, no new child support obligations may arise.
One form of indirect child support can result from the creation of an irrevocable trust by a parent who names his children as beneficiaries. Many irrevocable trusts, such as spendthrift trusts, provide for the gradual distribution of trust assets to beneficiaries over many years, continuing even after the beneficiaries have reached 18. If the trust is irrevocable, the grantor cannot amend or revoke the trust without a court order. Often, the consent of all beneficiaries is required to obtain a court order. The laws of most states, however, presume that a trust is revocable unless the document that created it specifically states that it is irrevocable.