Why You Might Still Owe Child Support After Your Child Turns 18

If you’re laboring under child support obligations, you might find yourself longing for the day your kid turns 18 in hopes that means you’ll have one less bill to pay.

Divorced parents sometimes have a rude awakening, though, when they realize that child support payments do not magically stop on their progeny’s 18th birthday. For a number of reasons, and depending on what state you live in, you might still be on the hook for years, or possibly even decades, afterward.

Here are some of the common scenarios where you may be responsible for paying child support after your child turns 18.

Your child lives in a state where the "age of maturity" is higher than 18: Apart from drinking alcohol, we often think of 18 as the threshold for being considered an "adult." However, not all states make 18 the cutoff point for parental support obligations. In some states, the “age of maturity” is higher, such as in New Jersey, where it is 19, or New York, where it is 21.

Even when your child reaches the “age of maturity,” you may still need to file a petition with a court to stop your payment obligations. It is a good idea to consult an experienced attorney in these matters.

Your child is still finishing high school: Even in states where the "age of maturity" is 18, there may be provisions extending the obligation period until the child completes high school. That is because high school children are typically unable to support themselves, and many students turn 18 while they are still in their final year of school.

Your child is in college: Many states also extend child support obligations beyond the age of 18 if your child is enrolled full-time at a college or university. You may also be required to help pay for your child’s college tuition and expenses, depending on the state and the financial resources of each spouse and of the child.

You owe back child support: Child support payments are viewed by all states as serious legal obligations. You cannot simply not pay child support without facing serious consequences. In many cases, failure to pay child support can be prosecuted criminally as a felony. Child support debts also cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.

If you have a hefty amount of child support debt, otherwise known as being in “arrears,” you could end up having to pay it off until well after the child is legally an adult. The statute of limitations for collecting unpaid child support can be lengthy.

In New York, for instance, parents are allowed to seek unpaid child support for up to 20 years after the date of default. In New Jersey, the limit is five years after the child reaches the legal age of maturity. The rules do vary considerably, though, across the country. In California, for instance, the statute of limitations is three years from the date the delinquent payment was due. Meanwhile, Wyoming has no statute of limitations. The huge amount of variation in these laws is one of many reasons why consulting an experienced attorney is so important for anyone dealing with child support questions.


Karen Rosenthal

Karen B. Rosenthal is a partner at matrimonial litigation firm Bikel Rosenthal & Schanfield LLP, where she brings 30 years of matrimonial law experience to bear in matters involving high-net-worth equitable distribution, contentious custody battles, and other high-stakes disputes. Certified as an Attorney for the Child and a frequent speaker on topics related to children going through high-conflict divorce, she has been recognized as a leading New York lawyer by Super Lawyers, Best Lawyers, and New York magazine.

To connect with Karen: 212.682.6222 | Online

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