Raising a child can be challenging and costly. When a divorce occurs, it doesn’t make parenting any easier.
Although noncustodial parents don’t have primary custody of their children, they are responsible for paying child support to cover the child’s basic needs, including food, shelter, clothing, education, health care, and any other reasonable expenses. Since monthly payments can add up, many of these parents cannot wait until their child turns 18 years old—known as the age of majority.
In California and in most states, child support ends when a child becomes 18 years of age. In other states, the age is 21 or until the child finishes college.
Furthermore, child payments are terminated when the child becomes “emancipated”—or self-supporting without needing the financial support of his/her parents—prior to reaching the age of majority. Emancipation occurs when the child marries, joins the armed services, moves out of the family home, or becomes financially independent.
However, the following are several situations where child support continues past the age of majority:
- The child is still in high school – If the child is still living with a parent and is a full-time high-school student, then child support payments continue until he/she turns 19 or graduates from high school.
- The child has special needs – If the child is disabled or has special needs, noncustodial parents may pay support beyond the age of majority to provide proper care. When a special-needs child has recurring and foreseeable expenses such as medical and educational costs, custodial parents typically request more child support to take care of these expenses.
- The noncustodial parent agrees to continue making payments – There is nothing in the state law which says child support payments must stop once the child turns 18. If both parents agree, child support can continue until a certain date, such as when the child graduates from college or when the child turns 21 years old. Keep in mind, if child support past the age of majority and any college costs were not mentioned in the original court order, the court will not order the noncustodial parent to make payments beyond the age of majority.
- The noncustodial parent owes child support – Just because a child turns 18, doesn’t relieve the noncustodial parent of any missed payments he/she owes. Even if it takes many years after the child turns 18, back payments are still due. Failure to pay owed child support can result in contempt of court, which is punishable by jail time.