When does the obligation to pay child support come to an end? Child support laws in the state of New York can be confusing at times. For example, the state of New York requires that a parent is liable for child support until the child reaches the age of 21. This child support obligation is added to the general requirement that a parent can be held responsible for the child’s college education.
Yet, at the same time, the law also states that New York children reach the age of majority at 18 years of age. It stands to reason, then, that where a child reaches the age of majority, he or she is no longer considered a child, but rather an adult. As an adult, the former child can no longer be considered to be in the custody of either parent.
This apparent conflict in child support laws leaves us with the contradiction that a parent of a child over the age of 18 can be ordered to pay child support for a “child” who is no longer in either parent’s custody. Neither parent has custody of the “child” yet a duty of support is owed.
There is one certain circumstance where child support comes to an end. When a child attains the age of 21 or other conditions exist, that child is considered “emancipated” by the state of New York. The term “emancipated” means that from the perspective of the state of New York, the child is considered an adult who is no longer eligible for child support.
The next question to be answered then is, what are the ways a child can become emancipated? Very often the two parents enter into an agreement during the course of divorce and/or custody cases in which they come to an understanding about what events would trigger a child’s emancipation. Often these agreements are very detailed.
If the parties are unable to reach an agreement on child support, their case would go before a court in the form of a child support hearing. Under these circumstances, the court will adhere to applicable state statutes which outline when a child becomes emancipated.
Sometimes emancipation is triggered when a child becomes financially independent. A child can become finanically independent when he or she enters into marriage, enters the military or military academy, or simply finds full-time employment. When this issue is presented to a court, the judge would most likely be concerned about whether the child is financially independent for the long-term. In other words, will the child be able to support himself or herself for a year and beyond?
When a child obtains temporary employment, he or she is clearly not emancipated. Once the summer employment ends, for example, the child will no longer be able to support himself or herself and that obligation would fall back upon the parents. Another example that would not trigger emancipation is where a child is simply working to save money for college expenses. In both situations, the child has not obtained permanent employment or financial independence.
Financial independence, however, is not the only way in which a child can become emancipated. If a mentally competent child is at an age where full-time employment is possible and that child voluntarily and without cause abandons the family home to avoid the control of a parent, against the will of a parent, then that child may be considered emancipated.
Moreover, if a child intentionally discontinues all contact with a non-cutodial parent, he or she may be considered emancipated for purposes of child support. There is an exception, however, to this last example in that if a child has good reason to either leave the family home or to discontinue contact with a non-custodial parent, then that child will not be considered emancipated. The idea here is that the conduct of the parent cannot be the cause of an abandonment of the home or a discontinuation of contact between parent and child.
Resumption of Support After Emancipation
Sometimes events occur that change the circumstances giving rise to the emancipation of a child. If the circumstances which provided for emancipation change significantly to the point that the child is no longer economically independent, then the child support obligation may be reinstated. In effect this means that emancipation only serves to suspend child support while the child remains under the age of 21.