Emancipation and Child Support Termination
Under Missouri law, a noncustodial parent is required to make child support payments to the custodial parent until the child has reached the age of 18. If the child is enrolled in school, support payments can be extended until their 21st birthday or they have graduated college — whichever comes first. However, there are some situations where child support can terminate sooner. For example, if a child is legally emancipated, a parent would no longer be obligated to make payments.
What is Emancipation?
In Missouri, child support must be paid until the child reaches the “age of emancipation.” In most cases, a non-custodial parent can expect to make payments until the child turns 18 (or 21 if the child attends college) unless the child is legally emancipated before that time. Specifically, emancipation allows a child who is 16 or 17 to assume the rights and responsibilities of an adult. Upon being emancipated, their parents no longer have a financial obligation to support them.
A child is considered to be emancipated for the purposes of child support when one of the following events occurs:
- The child gets married
- The child joins the military
- The child is self-supporting and the custodial parent consents to emancipation
- The child turns 18 and has graduated from high school but is not enrolled in a higher education program
- The child is 18 and has enrolled in a higher education program but does not have sufficient grades to re-enroll
Importantly, emancipation means that a child lives separately from their parents and manages their own financial affairs. In most instances, parents must consent to their child’s emancipation — for example, while a minor under 18 can be emancipated through marriage, they would still need parental permission to marry. In addition, even though a child can become emancipated by joining the military at age 17, they would still need to obtain consent from their parents to enlist.
Child Support and College Enrollment
To receive child support after the age of 18 based on enrollment in college or a vocational school, certain criteria must be met. The child must be enrolled no later than the October following graduation from high school or obtaining their GED. In addition, they must be enrolled for at least 12 credit hours each semester (not including the summer) and achieve grades sufficient to re-enroll. A child who works at least fifteen hours per week may take nine credits and remain eligible for support as long as they receive sufficient grades.
The child must provide the paying parent with a school transcript at the beginning of each semester reflecting their grades, along with a document that lists the courses and number of credits for the upcoming term. If a child is enrolled in at least 12 credit hours and they receive failing grades in half or more of their course load for any one semester, child support payments can terminate. The parent paying child support may also make a specific request for the child’s grades. The burden is on the child to produce the required documents within thirty days of receiving their grades. If the child does not provide the documentation within this time frame, support payments may terminate without arrears accruing and support would not be eligible for reinstatement.
How Can You Terminate Child Support Based on Emancipation?
A child support obligation does not end automatically based on a child’s emancipation regarding one of the above events. The court must receive written notice for ordered child support to terminate before the child turns 18 or 21. The legal process to terminate child support based on emancipation requires filing a sworn affidavit with the court — or with the Family Support Division if an administrative order was issued. The document must state that the child is emancipated, along with the circumstances under which they were emancipated, and include a request that the support obligation be terminated.
In the event both parents consent to terminate child support, the receiving parent can sign a sworn statement of emancipation which can be filed with the court or Family Support Division. In these cases, the judge can grant the request without a court appearance. If the receiving parent does not consent to terminate support, they must file a sworn affidavit stating the reason why they disagree. They can also request that the court schedule a hearing to review the case. However, if the receiving parent fails to respond within 30 days of receiving the paying parent’s petition to terminate support, the court may grant the request to terminate the support obligation.
Contact an Experienced Missouri Family Law Attorney
Terminating child support due to emancipation can be complex. It’s essential to have a knowledgeable family law attorney who can advise you regarding your options, safeguard your rights, and guide you through the legal process. Divorce and family law attorney Mark A. Wortman provides reliable representation to clients in the greater Kansas City, Missouri area who are facing child support matters and a broad scope of family law issues. To schedule a confidential consultation to learn how he can assist you with your case, please contact him today online or by calling (816) 523-6100.