Will Child Support Still Be the Same If the Child Turns 18 and I Still Owe Arrears?

By Cindy DeRuyter, J.D.

Will Child Support Still Be the Same If the Child Turns 18 and I Still Owe Arrears?

By Cindy DeRuyter, J.D.

Child support provides for the costs of raising your child until they reach the age of majority, or adulthood, in your state or until they meet other court-established requirements, such as completing high school. Typically, child support ends at that point, but if you are behind on your child support payments to your child's other parent, you must continue making payments to make up for the amounts you did not pay, called arrears, until you fulfill your obligation.

Father with his hand on his son's shoulder, comforting him

Child Support Basics

Courts frequently include child support requirements in divorce decrees. When a judge orders a noncustodial parent to pay child support to the child's custodial parent, the intention is that the money be used to pay for the child's care and support. Common uses include necessities such as shelter, food, clothing, and medical care as well as the costs of childcare, school and educational costs and fees, activities, entertainment, travel, and more.

Judges consider a variety of factors when determining whether to order child support and, if so, how much to award. Ideally, child support lets the child continue to enjoy the same standard of living they enjoyed before the parents' divorce. Of course, child support depends on financial needs and the noncustodial parent's ability to pay.

Payments in Arrears vs. On-Time Payments

Your divorce decree or separate child support court order defines specific child support requirements. Typically, child support ends when the child reaches the age of 18 and finishes high school, although in some states or under some court orders, it continues through a child's college years. If you make your payments on time, your obligation ends when your family's situation meets the requirements described in your divorce decree or court order.

Sometimes, though, noncustodial parents struggle to meet their child support obligations. If a child reaches the point when payments would otherwise stop, the noncustodial parent still owes the debt associated with any missed payments.

In some states, child support not paid on time is subject to interest and late payment penalties. So, the amount you owe your child's other parent may be greater than what you originally owed.

Statutes of Limitations

Child support laws are state specific. Some states' laws include statutes of limitations for late child support payments. That means that your child's other parent cannot collect child support in arrears after a certain point.

In many states, this limit is 10 years after the due date for the last child support payment. So, if your child support should have ended when your son or daughter turned 18, your child's other parent only has until your child's 28th birthday to collect child support in arrears.

If you owe child support in arrears and your child has reached the age of majority or another milestone specified in your child support order, the debt is still valid. Sometimes, parents pay child support in arrears long after the child reaches adulthood. If you have questions about your specific situation, a family law attorney in your state can help you understand your rights and obligations to your child's other parent.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.

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