Many divorcing parents and single parents are aware of their obligation to support their children, and some are familiar with how the amount they must pay is decided. Fewer are aware of how long the obligation to support their children continues. Your Jacksonville family attorney can assist you with understanding all of the nuances about child support.
Payment Lasts Until the Child Reaches Majority Age
In general, a parent must pay child support until the child is 18 years old. This is considered the age of majority or when the child is 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. Your Jacksonville family attorney can assist you in determining what your obligation will be based on your particular circumstances.
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 if they have a reasonable expectation of graduating by the time, they turn nineteen. Showing a “reasonable expectation” is often 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. The parent that is asking for child support to be extended beyond the disabled child’s eighteenth birthday, must file a request with the family law court prior to the child turning eighteen. Consult with your Jacksonville family attorney about your disabled child to ensure that they are supported and cared for as long as they need to be supported.
Third, though parents have no legal obligation to continue supporting their children after they turn eighteen or graduate from high school by the age of nineteen, the courts will enforce voluntarily entered agreements that extend the period of support. In contrast, 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, and therefore you cannot enter into an agreement to waive child support. However, there is no legal restriction 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. Some parents enter into agreements to pay for college for their children and those agreements are legally binding and enforceable.
Talk to a Jacksonville Family Law Attorney
Whether you are contemplating a divorce or a paternity action, are in the middle of the process, or already have an Order in place, your Jacksonville Family Attorney can help answer your questions about child support.
About the Author
B. Elaine Jones is a licensed Florida attorney who has been practicing family law, guardianship law and criminal law for over 25 years in Florida. Ms. Jones is an associate with the Law Office of David M. Goldman in Jacksonville, Florida. Ms. Jones previously had a solo practitioner firm in Hillsborough County and joined Attorney Goldman’s firm in November of 2020. You can contact Ms. Jones at the Law Office of David M. Goldman for a free initial consultation in most cases.