Can I stop paying child support at 18? No. One of the biggest myths in (Colorado) family law is that child support ends when a child turns 18.
After all, at 18 one is legally an adult – Junior is old enough to vote, work, join the military, and in general is old enough that neither a family law judge, nor a parent, have much luck telling him what to do.
But most kids are still in high school on their 18th birthday, not yet emancipated, with months remaining before they graduate. And even then, many go off to college, take a “gap year” abroad, or if they do work, it’s in an entry-level position, scarcely earning enough to move out of the family home. In short, most children are not quite ready to be self-sufficient upon their 18th birthday.
See the all-new Emancipation for Colorado Child Support article in the Colorado Family Law Guide for an exhaustive discussion of the age when child support really terminates in Colorado.
Age of Majority for Child Support is 19 in Colorado
Can I stop paying child support at 19? Maybe, and usually, yes!
But there are caveats – under the Colorado child support statute:
“Unless a court finds that a child is otherwise emancipated, emancipation occurs and child support terminates without either party filing a motion when the last or only child attains nineteen years of age…”C.R.S. 14-10-115(13)(a).
First, note that support only ends when the “last or only” child turns 19. If you have two or more kids, and one of them turns 19, you still owe the same child support unless you file a motion to modify child support – there is no automatic reduction in support for the emancipated child.
And this age 19 rule is not absolute – the court could find emancipation, and therefore no support obligation, when the child is younger than 19 – for example, if the child attains those milestones typically reserved for adulthood, such as marrying, joining the military, or moving out of the home and becoming self-sufficient.
Similarly, a child may turn 19 but still not be ready to enter the workforce. In such cases, the court may order that support continue beyond the child’s 19th birthday – examples of when this happens is when the parents agree (e.g. for college), the child has not yet graduated from high school, or a child is physically or mentally disabled and unable to support himself.
And if you are paying child support, don’t forget the health insurance – the obligation to share medical expenses also continues as long as there is a support obligation. And while many parents may choose to keep their kids on their policies after the age of 19, as long as the children are emancipated, this is solely voluntary, and absent the parents agreeing, a court cannot order health insurance, or child support, beyond a child’s emancipation.
Emancipation for Child Support vs Child Custody
“Not as long as you’re living under my roof.” Many 18 year-olds have heard their parents use a variation of this once or twice, or many times. And there is a problem when the law says a child is an adult for purposes of custody upon turning 18, but the parent still owes a duty of support until he turns 19. And even if the parent is paying support, that parent cannot even make the child live with him.
If the child moves out at any age, the parent still owes a duty of support until the child turns 19 – it’s just that the support is owing to the guardian actually caring for the child. This has the potential for tension – a parent cannot control a child, but still has to pay her money.
Emancipation & Support in Other States
The age of emancipation varies state-to-state. Most states end support at either 18 or 19, with exceptions if the child is still in high school. In Puerto Rico, the support obligation only ends when the child turns 21 (the same age of emancipation used in Colorado until 1997).
More Child Support Information
The Family Support section of the Colorado Family Law Guide is full of in-depth articles about every aspect of child support in Colorado.
Award-Winning Child Support Lawyer in Colorado Springs
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