Can Child Support Be Stopped if a Child Is Not Living With a Parent?

By Rob Jennings J.D.

Generally, a parent who does not have primary custody of his child will pay support to the parent who does. However, sometimes children spend more overnights with their noncustodial parent. This requires modification of the existing custody order to reflect the actual custody arrangement. After that happens, the court can recalculate child support, or even eliminate it, if there is only one child and that child went to live with the parent who formerly did not have custody.

Age of the Child

Many states will consider an older teenager's desire to live with a particular parent. Generally, the older and more mature the child is, the more likely the court is to grant the child's wishes. Courts often recognize that older minors might run away and it is difficult to force them to live with a parent when they do not want to. A child's wishes, though, are only one of the factors a family court will generally consider when deciding what living arrangement will serve the child's best interests. If a custody order is already in place when a child decides he wants to change his living arrangement, the parent who does not have primary custody will need to seek a modification of the custody order.

Non-Parent Guardian

Sometimes children leave the custody of the parent who receives child support, but don't go live with the noncustodial parent. In some situations, children go to live with grandparents, aunts and uncles, or friends. Although child support to the custodial parent would end, the parents would remain primarily responsible for the minor child's care and support. This may require the payment of child support to the people who have actual physical custody of their child.

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A child is emancipated, or released from their parents' authority, when he or she reaches the age of majority, usually the age of 18. Emancipation can also occur if the child joins the military or gets married. Child support generally stops when a minor child emancipates, but many states, such as North Carolina and Arkansas, require the noncustodial parent to continue supporting the child until he or she graduates from high school. Some states, such as Alabama, Indiana and Illinois, go even further and permit courts, at their discretion, to order parents to contribute to an emancipated child's higher education expenses.

More than One Child

Many times, parents pay support for more than one child. Typically, child support to the custodial parent doesn't stop just because custody of some children changes. When several children are involved, change in custody for one child might lower support, but doesn't typically eliminate it. Child support would be recalculated under the state's guidelines to reflect an amount appropriate to the new custodial situation, in which one or more of the children have emancipated or began living with the noncustodial parent.

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Custody Laws for Underage Parents in Pennsylvania


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Remarriage & Custody

Remarriage is usually not a reason for a change in custody unless other factors are involved. Parents naturally move on to new partners after a breakup. The fact that they have a child doesn’t change this. Unless the new relationship affects the child or his relationship with his other parent, courts are not likely to modify custody because of it. Judges are obligated to place custody based on the best interest of the child.

Custody of a Minor Child When the Natural Parents Die

Technically, the issue of custody disappears when a child’s parents die. Another adult will take over and raise the bereaved child, but the legal arrangement becomes one of guardianship, not custody. The probate court appoints a guardian to care for the child and a conservator to oversee the management of the financial details of the guardianship. Sometimes, a court may select one individual to serve in both capacities.

Do Guardianship Papers Overrule Custody?

Differentiating between custody and guardianship can be complicated because they are essentially the same thing. One distinction is that family courts usually grant custody orders, and probate courts grant guardianship orders. Custody is often an arrangement between parents pursuant to a divorce decree, determining which of them their child lives with and who makes important decisions on the child’s behalf. Guardianship usually involves a more cohesive and precise order, legally placing a child in a guardian’s care.

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