Child support can I stop paying when child turns 18 and graduates from high school?

Child support is required for the care and maintenance of a child. It is not voluntary, and it is ordered at the time of birth (if the parents are not married), after a divorce, or after a separation. Child support can be used by the custodial parent to pay for the child’s needs, including food, clothing, educational expenses, and housing.

Non-custodial parents who fail to pay child support can face legal consequences. State authorities may have the legal right to garnish wages and governmental refund checks, seize and sell assets, place liens on property, and send the offender to jail.

Recently on our legal forum a user asked, “I have been paying child support since the birth of my child. Now that she has reached 18 years of age and has graduated from high school I am wondering how much longer child support must be paid?”

Terminating child support payments

Most parents are willing and happy to provide for the needs of their child, including paying child support. At some point, all children (not just those who are from separated, divorced, or single parent homes), must become adults, which means they should no longer need to rely on the care and monetary support of their parents. In fact, parents who are doing their job well will recognize their goal is to make their kids self-sufficient, and in effect, someday put themselves out of a job.

So how long will you have to pay child support? Child support laws are determined by each state. It is important to review your own state’s laws. General information provided below is specific to the state of California.

In general, in the state of California, most parents will be required to provide child support payments to their children until the child turns 18 years old. There are, however, exceptions to this rule. For example, child support may be terminated sooner if any of the following occurs:

  • The child gets married.
  • The child enters active military duty.
  • The child declares themselves emancipated.
  • The child is deported.
  • The child is adopted by another party.

Child support may also be extended for a variety of reasons. For example, if your son or daughter is 18 years of age but remains in high school and does not have the ability to support themselves, you may be required to continue to pay child support until they graduate from high school or reach 19 years of age, or whichever occurs first.

Parents of children who are mentally or physically incapacitated may also have the legal obligation to continue to pay child support indefinitely, assuming the child has no other way to live sufficiently on their own.

Finally, many parents may agree to continue to provide support to their child past the age of 18. For example, if you son or daughter is attending a university or technical school and is unable to support themselves, you and your ex-spouse may decide to continue child support payments.

How do I terminate the child support order?

To terminate child support you may contact the Child Support Enforcement Agency (CSE) in your state. Written notification is preferable, but notification can also be made via the phone. The CSE has a specific number of days to review your case, which could be as long as 20 days.

In some cases, when your child nears their 18 birthday, the CSE may also initiate an investigation on their own to determine if child support should be terminated. For example, they would review whether your child is 18 years old and has also graduated from high school.

It’s probably a good idea, however, to initiate contact on your own when you believe you are eligible to stop paying child support.

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