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When Can You Legally Stop Paying Child Support?

by Jackie Lohrey

A noncustodial parent’s child support obligation usually ends when a minor reaches the age of majority as established under state laws. Although most states designate 18 as the “golden age,” laws vary. In some states and U.S. territories, the age at which a child is considered an adult ranges from 19 to 21.

Exceptions to Child Support Laws

Exceptions can either end a support obligation early or extend it beyond the age of majority.

  • A child support obligation usually terminates if the child becomes emancipated before the age of majority. An emancipated minor is no longer under the care and control of his parents. A minor child can obtain emancipation by entering military service, getting married, or by petitioning the court for an order, according to Nolo. 
  • Most states extend child support if a child reaches the age of majority before graduation from high school. However, only a few states will extend an order to provide support during college years.
  • State laws may extend child support indefinitely when a mental or physical disability prevents an adult child from supporting himself. According to FindLaw, courts also consider whether and how the disability creates a financial hardship for the custodial parent in setting a time frame for continuing support.

Other Court-Ordered Payments

Child support covers a portion of costs to feed, clothe, shelter, educate and provide basic health care to a minor child. In addition to offsetting these costs through monthly child support payments, courts have the option of imposing additional financial obligations on noncustodial parents. These include medical and dental expenses, orthodontics, summer camp and religious or private school tuition. In these cases, the obligation ends when the noncustodial parent’s portion of the expense is paid in full, but new expenses may be incurred.

Stopping Child Support

Child support payments may not end automatically when a child reaches the age of majority. According to FindLaw, most states require that a noncustodial parent file a motion to vacate a child support order or take some other step to end the obligation.

Tips

  • A parent who owes back child support must pay the debt in full even if it requires making payments after the child reaches the age of majority.