Emancipation and Termination of Child Support as Grounds for a Divorce Modification
September 21, 2015
Child support orders are a standard part of any divorce order involving children. It might seem obvious that when a child is considered an adult that child support payments should stop. Typically a divorce decree will spell out specifically when child support should stop for any given child. However, once a child is emancipated, you have reasonable grounds to file for a divorce modification to stop the child support.
What is emancipation?
Children can be emancipated in several different ways. Emancipation means that the court legally considers the child an adult. Typically, this happens automatically at a specified age, such as 18 or 19. However, it could occur due to other reasons. Some states have laws that a child is considered emancipated upon joining the armed forces. If your child gets married, the court may consider the child emancipated for child support purposes. Finally, a child can file for legal emancipation from his or her parents. This typically requires that the child is able to be self-supporting, without the assistance of child support. The rules for emancipation vary from state to state, though there may be language in your divorce decree that clarifies when your child will be considered emancipated.
What if I think my child is emancipated?
If you think that your child has fulfilled the criteria for emancipation, do not just stop paying child support. Remember that child support is a court order, and as long as the order is in effect, the court can garnish your wages, suspend your driver's license, or even send you to jail. If you believe that your child support should be terminated due to emancipation, file a motion with the court. Most courts have a standard local form that you can fill out that will guide you to provide the necessary information to the court.
What happens after the motion is filed?
After filing a motion, the court will typically set a hearing date to allow the person receiving the child support a chance to speak and tell the court his or her point of view. Ultimately, the court may decide to modify the divorce order in a number of different ways including terminating the child support order or lowering the support order. In some cases, even if a child is above the age of emancipation, a judge might order child support to continue under the specific circumstances. In some states, child support may continue to be ordered until the child is out of high school. In others, the court may extend child support if the child has special needs. Because the termination of child support is not automatic, it is important to make sure you continue to pay until you have an court order stopping the child support obligation.