Now, There Is a Child Support Order, But When Does it End?
Making the decision to have a child brings with it the automatic legal obligation to provide financial support until the child reaches adulthood. Most parents, even if not consciously aware of this legal obligation, fully and openly accept the responsibility of providing for the child until he/she turns 18. This arrangement is easy and natural when the parents are married or living together, but if this relationship does not work out, determining who should pay for child-related expenses and how much, is an issue that frequently generates disagreement. While it is important to understand how child support is calculated and/or enforced, an equally important and natural concern for the parent paying the monthly child support is determining when he/she can stop making these payments.
Basic Stopping Point and Exceptions
Florida law states that child support ends when the child reaches the age of 18. Eighteen is designated as the cutoff point because it is at this age that a person becomes a legal adult. Being a legal adult means the person is considered to have sufficient intellectual development and maturity to generate their own sources of support and to understand the consequences of decisions and be held legally responsible for their actions. Thus, they are viewed as no longer needing parental support. There are, however, a few exceptions that will extend the child support obligation beyond this time. If the child is still in high school when he/she turns 18 and is reasonably expected to graduate before reaching 19, a judge can order the parent to continue child support payments until high school is completed. But if it is clear graduation will not occur before 19, child support stops when the child reaches 18. In addition, if the child has a mental or physical impairment that prevents him/her from ever being able to provide self-support, the parent will likely to be required to pay child support the child’s entire life.
Ending Child Support Early
While it may be more natural to envision paying child support until the child turns 18, there are four circumstances that will end this obligation early – emancipation, marriage, military service, and death. Emancipation involves a court declaring a minor child over 16, but under 18, to be a legal adult. This authorization can be for all purposes or specific acts. If it is for all purposes, the parents no longer have support obligations. Courts decide such petitions based on the best interests of the child. For marriage and military enlistment, parents can consent to either act before the child turns 18 (16 for marriage and 17 for the military enlistment), which essentially results in the same emancipation issued by a judge.
Can You Just Stop Paying?
When a child reaches one of these milestones, whether the obligated parent can simply stop making payments depends on a few factors. First, if the parent directly pays the child support to the other parent and no exceptions apply that extend this responsibility, it is permissible to stop paying without notifying the court or reopening the child support case. If, on the other hand, payments are made to the state through an employer via an Income Withholding Order or directly to Florida Department of Revenue Child Enforcement for later disbursement, the parent must first obtain a court order authorizing the termination of the disbursement unit account. Without this order, the paying parent is at risk of being accused of a failure to pay child support, which exposes the parent to a host of civil and criminal penalties.
Talk to a Family Law Attorney
Ending child support payments is a big milestone for the paying parent for two reasons – it signifies the child now an adult and opens up previously unavailable financial resources. But, do not assume you can just stop paying. Not all child support orders list a firm end date, and even if yours does, it is best to talk to a family law attorney to ensure your interpretation is correct. The Fort Lauderdale law firm of Joyce A. Julian, P.A. can help you through this process so you know your legal obligation is truly over. Contact the office to schedule a free consultation.