This is a question that seems simple enough, yet there are many factors that can affect when child support will terminate. As a general rule, child support will end when the child moves beyond the economic sphere of the parents. What this means and how it can be determined is a fact-sensitive issue for Courts to address.
Many people believe that once a child turns 18 that he/she no longer needs to be supported. For many children, merely turning 18 does not spin them off out of the parent’s economic sphere. For instance, children who are 18 may still be seniors in high school, or they may be freshmen in college. Certainly attending school on a full-time basis doesn’t allow them to obtain full-time employment and become financially self-sufficient. However, after a child graduates high school, they can choose from many diverse paths of life.
For example, a child who graduates high school, does not go on to college, and obtains full-time employment as an auto worker earning the equivalent of $40,000 per year certainly has moved beyond being financially dependent on his parents. In that case, child support would end. If, however, that same high-school grad continued on to Rutgers University studying on a full-time basis with barely enough time to hold down a part-time job at the student union, the child support obligation would not end. (It may, however, be reduced to reflect the fact that the child is not living at home with the custodial parent on a full-time basis.)
Conversely, a child who has turned 18, graduated from high school, and is not attending college or vocational school at all, absent some medical reason why they cannot work, may see their child support end. If this child were attending school on a part-time basis, a further scrutiny of the circumstances surrounding the part-time status would need to be made in order to see what good-faith reason there is for less than full-time attendance, and whether or not this warrants continued child support.
A child who marries or enters the armed forces would be determined to have left the parents’ economic orbit and therefore the child-support obligation would end. Another example would be if the child permanently moved away from the custodial parent’s residence. Again, their dependency upon the parent for shelter and necessities has ceased.
As with many concepts in family law, the result is very fact-specific. But the concept of a child ceasing to be dependent upon their parents for their everyday needs and wants is a general rule of thumb to gauge whether the child-support obligation should continue or end.
Bari Zell-Weinberger is a Certified New Jersey divorce lawyer and partner with the firm of Weinberger Divorce & Family Law Group, LLC. in Parsippany, New Jersey, where she exclusively practices family and matrimonial law. View her online Divorce Magazine profile.