Generally, as long as the child is a dependent under the age of eighteen, a parent will be paying support. However, there are occasions when the answer may vary.
In Texas, the most common situations in which child support is terminated before the child's eighteenth birthday are: death of a child, marriage of a child, removal of the child's disabilities for general purposes, enlistment of a child in the armed forces, or upon the remarriage of the parents to each other. A parent’s estate may also be ordered to pay support at the death of that parent. All of these possibilities are specifically addressed by the Texas Family Code and will most likely be found in every Texas divorce decree.
If your rebellious child drops out of school, support continues until the eighteenth birthday; if your love-smitten child gets married before that eighteenth birthday, child support ceases. Marriage is considered an act of emancipation, and the child is no longer a dependent. But if your child wants to be independent to run his own band, for example, he can seek a court order. If that order is granted, then child support is terminated.
If a child reaches eighteen years before graduating from high school, child support is extended through the month the child graduates.
Child support can be extended past the age of eighteen in several other situations. If a child is fully enrolled in an accredited secondary school in a program leading toward a combination degree -- i.e., joint high school and junior college credit -- a court may issue an order extending support past the eighteenth birthday for a certain time period. This order may be filed either before or after the child's eighteenth birthday.
If a child is disabled, then a parent may be ordered to pay support indefinitely. The child must require substantial care and personal supervision because of a mental or physical disability that exists before the child's eighteenth birthday and prevents the child from supporting him/herself. This time period is indefinite and may extend well into adulthood.
By now, you can see that the Texas legislature expects parents to provide necessities for their children until the child's basic education is completed. Texas does not provide support for a college degree, but parents can voluntarily contract to support their children through a college education if they so desire. Even though a court cannot order support after the child becomes eighteen, the court can enforce an agreement between the parents that support is to be paid after the age of eighteen. It is important to seek the advice of an attorney before entering into an agreement that binds you past the child's eighteenth birthday.
Martha Bourne is an attorney, a mediator, and a collaborative lawyer who is Board Certified in Family Law. Her practice, Martha Bourne and Associates, covers all aspects of family law and has seen many changes over the last 23 years in Houston. She qualifies for Martindale-Hubbell's highest rating for small practices.