When a child of divorced parents turns age eighteen, child support requirements may change. In most situations, parents do not have to continue paying child support. Custody arrangements will end too. If you have an older child and are considering divorce (or even if your child is younger), you should know what will happen when he or she turns eighteen.
Court-Ordered Child Support Ends at Age 18, In Most Cases
Many parents’ obligations to support their children end permanently when the children turn eighteen. There are a few exceptions to this general rule:
- The child has not graduated from high school and is still in school
- The child is mentally or physically incapable of self-support
- Parents agree to support the child beyond age eighteen
For the first exception, child support continues until the child graduates high school, turns age twenty, has unsatisfactory academic progress, or stops going to school regularly (whichever happens first). If a child is enrolled in a cooperative innovative high school program, payments can continue after a child turns eighteen, until they complete his or her fourth year of enrollment. For the second exception, child support continues, even if he or she is over age eighteen, if the child is mentally or physically incapable of self-support. In this instance, child support can continue for the duration for which the child remains incapable of self-support. For the third exception, parents can sign a separation agreement saying that they will support the child longer. You may want to continue support through college, or you may have a child with special needs who would benefit from the additional support.
A parent who is paying child support has no obligation to make child support payments after the child turns eighteen, or after one of the exceptions listed above no longer applies. You should not have to return to court or speak to the judge to end child support obligations. The child turning eighteen signals the end of the requirement for support payments. However, if a parent is behind on child support payments, he or she must continue making payments until caught up – even after the child turns eighteen.
Further, in North Carolina, court-ordered child support could end even before a child turns age eighteen. This may happen if your child joins the military, gets married, or is legally emancipated.
Custody Arrangements and Visitation Rights End at Age 18
Like child support, custody arrangements end when a child turns age eighteen. Any court-ordered custody or visitation rights are terminated, meaning that the court cannot make any orders about the child’s living arrangements. The child is free to choose where to live and how often to see each parent.
Negotiating Child Support and Custody Arrangements with Older Children
If your children are older teens, you may have specific concerns when negotiating for child support and custody. For example, you might worry how you will save enough to help with college. You might fret about how to pay for a child with special needs’ lifetime care. Or you might simply want your children to finish high school at the same school they have been attending.
You can address these concerns when discussing a separation agreement or divorce terms. As described above, you may agree with your spouse that you want child support payments to continue through college or beyond. Custody arrangements could be tailored to keep your children in the same school and close to friends and family. A lawyer can help navigate this kind of negotiation.
Even if your children are not even close to age eighteen, you may wish to think about what will happen with child support and custody when they get older. For example, you might need to re-negotiate your custody arrangements or change your support agreement as your child’s needs change. Make sure you receive informed legal advice about how best to approach your spouse if needed.
Let New Direction Family Law Assist You
If you are getting divorced and have questions about children turning 18, the team at New Direction Family Law is available today to answer your questions. With decades of combined legal experience, our attorneys are knowledgeable, effective, and compassionate professionals. We will help you understand your legal rights and work hard toward your best outcome. We proudly serve clients in Wake, Johnston, Durham, and surrounding counties. Contact New Direction Family Law at (919) 646-6561 to schedule a consultation, or visit us at our website.