Does child support terminate after a child’s 18th birthday in Massachusetts? The simple answer is “yes” and “no”.

My Kid Turned 18. Does child support stop now?

If you live in Massachusetts and your son or daughter is turning 18, it does not mean that child support payments will stop. This may seem odd because in Massachusetts, an 18 year-old is considered an adult under the law. However, Bay State law allows for payments for support, maintenance, and education past a child’s 18th birthday for a variety of reasons.

What Does the Law Say?

For both children of married parents and unmarried parents, the statutes permit child support to be paid until a child turns 23 (although there are increasingly restricted circumstances as the child grows older). The reasons that “post-minority” child support may continue for adult children is as follows:

  • An 18 year old (or older) child may still be in high school. The child support statutes treat children who have reached the age of 18, but who are still enrolled in high school, as minors under child support.
  • As a child grows, the costs for parents very often increases.

Once a child graduates from high school, there is a good chance that child support will continue if the child lives in one parent’s home.  The law states that that child support may continue for children ages 18 to 21 or 23 who are “principally dependent” on one parent. “Principally dependent” simply means that the child continues to live primarily with one parent.

What if My Kid is Going to College Away From Home? Do I still get or Pay Child Support?

If you son or daughter attends college away from home for most of the year, he or she will still most likely be deemed “principally dependent” on the parent the child resides with during school breaks (the holidays and the summer). In Massachusetts, many judges construe the term “principally dependent” in a liberal manner. In practice, existing weekly child support orders will continue until the child’s 21st birthday.

Do I have to Pay For Graduate School or College Costs

Children ages 21 to 22 are still entitled to child support if the child lives with the parent and is principally dependent upon them for maintenance due to enrollment in an educational program. However, this excludes educational costs beyond an undergraduate degree — another words, if they are attending graduate school to get a masters of Ph.D. you will not still be paying (or receiving) child support. It is generally understood that a child must be enrolled full-time in a undergraduate program to qualify for child support after the age of 21.

Can I Just Stop Paying Child Support When My Child Turns 21?

When a child turns 18 and graduates from high school, they are not automatically entitled to child support. But Be Aware — a Massachusetts parent with a child support obligation cannot simply just stop paying child support after his or her child turns 18 (even if you sure that the child no longer qualifies). Unless the child has turned 23, the parent responsible for paying child support needs to get a court order before that can stop making payments.

Again (pay attention here) unless your child support order specifically states that payments stop when your child turns 18 or graduates from high school, you must continue paying child support. It is imperative that you pay child support until the Court provides explicit permission for you to stop.

Complaint for Modification to Stop Paying Child Support

If you are the parent who is seeking to stop paying child support, you need to file a Complaint for Modification (here’s the PDF form). If you are a parent who unilaterally stops paying child support after your child turns 18, you can end up owing money – even if the child would not have qualified for continued (post-minority) child support.

Factors the Court Uses When Considering Continued Child Support (over 18)

The court will examine a number of factors if a parent files a Complaint for Modification seeking termination of child support for a child over 18. A judge will first look to see whether the child is living with a parent and is “principally dependent” on that parent.

In addition, the judge with review a number of items outlined in the Child Support Guidelines, including:

  • The child’s living situation
  • Academic status of the child
  • The cost of the child’s education
  • Each parent’s contribution to that education
  • Availability of financial aid for the child
  • The reason why the child is living with a parent
  • The reasons why the child is primarily financially dependent
  • The custodial parent’s financial situation

* Each case is fact specific so be sure an consult with a family law attorney regarding your case. this article is not meant to be a substitute for legal advise.

Resources:

Check out this Mass.Gov website page for more child support information at 2013 Child Support Guidelines