Many divorcing parents are aware of their obligation to support their children, and some are familiar with how the amount they have to pay is decided. Fewer are aware of how long their obligation to support their children continues.
Payment Lasts Until Child Reaches Majority Age
In general, a parent must pay child support until their child is 18. This is considered the age of majority, when the child is legally recognized as an adult. However, a child's eighteenth birthday isn't always the cutoff date for support payments. According to Florida law, a parent's duty to continue paying child support may be extended when the child has not finished high school by their eighteenth birthday; when the child has special needs; and when there is an agreement that says otherwise.
First, parents of children who have not finished high school by their eighteenth birthday are obligated to support their children until the children complete their education. This doesn't mean that a child can stay in high school forever. Support will only continue if the child is still enrolled in school, has a reasonable expectation of finishing their education, and expects to graduate before their nineteenth birthday. Showing a "reasonable expectation" is often the key to qualifying for this exception. The child would most likely have to show that they are and have been enrolled in a school, that they have been regularly attending, and that they will meet the requirements for graduation. Under this statute a child who dropped out of high school at 17, or who is several years away from graduating, would not qualify for continued support. In contrast, a child who turned 18 several months before their graduation would be entitled to receive support until their graduation.
Second, child support may continue indefinitely if the child is mentally or physically disabled. In determining the length of time that support will continue, the courts will generally look at whether the child will ever be able to earn enough money to support themselves or whether their disability will prevent them from providing for themselves. It does not matter whether the child was born with their disability or whether they became afflicted with it at a later age. For the support to continue, all that matters is that the disability began before the child reached the age of majority, and that the disability will prevent the child from being financially self-sufficient.
Third, though parents have no legal obligation to continue supporting their children after the aforementioned circumstances, the courts will enforce voluntarily entered agreements that extend the period of support. Parents are prevented from contractually decreasing their child's right to support (because the right to be supported belongs to the child, and not to either parent), but there is no legal stipulation against providing more support than one is asked to. Thus, parents who decide to create a binding agreement to help their child beyond what is required will generally be held to the terms of that agreement.
Talk to a Tampa Bay Family Law Attorney
Whether you're contemplating a divorce or a paternity action, are in the middle of the process, or already have an order in place, a Tampa family law attorney can help answer your questions about child support. Contact our Experienced Attorneys & Counselors at Law since 1997 Serving all of Tampa Bay. Call 813-672-1900 now for a free initial consultation www.familymaritallaw.com.
By Lynette Silon-Laguna Google