Your oldest child is counting down the days until he or she turns 19.  You may wistfully remember the days of young childhood and you may also celebrate that your obligation to pay weekly child support for that child is likely ending.  Keep in mind, however, that child support payments do not end or change automatically.  You need to take some action to ensure that weekly child support ends for an emancipated child and to ensure that you are in compliance with your court order to pay support for younger siblings.

If your 19-year-old child is your only or last unemancipated child, you will need to ask the court for an order which declares your child emancipated, ends your obligation for weekly child support, and terminates any existing income withholding order that deducts your child support from your paycheck automatically.  Do not assume that these things will happen magically because your child is 19.  The court is not monitoring your case to automatically do this for you. Additionally, your employer needs a court order to stop withholding child support from your paycheck.  Your instruction to stop is not enough.  Do not sit around waiting for support payments to stop.  Sometime after your child turns 18 years of age, talk with an attorney about preparing the appropriate paperwork BEFORE your child’s 19th birthday, and taking the appropriate legal steps to end your support payments.  Doing nothing means you will overpay, and you may not get that money back.

If you have more than one child and only your oldest child is reaching emancipation, your weekly child support obligation will also not automatically change.  The Indiana Child Support Guidelines make clear that it is inappropriate to divide a child support payment equally among the children for whom it was ordered and then simply to reduce the payment when one child becomes emancipated.  For example, if you have two children and the older one reaches the age of emancipation, do not assume that you can cut your child support payment in half.  All child support changes require a court order, whether the change is an end to weekly support or a modification in what you pay because of an emancipated child.  Always keep paying what your court order requires until there is a new court order, even if your co-parent says he or she is “fine” to simply agree to a new number informally.  Prior to going to your court date or reaching an agreement about the new child support number, talk to an attorney about how to manage an overpayment during the period between the date that you asked the court to change your support payment and the date that your support payment changes.

The end of your weekly child support payments does not end any obligation you have to pay for your child’s post-secondary education expenses.  This obligation can and does extend beyond the date of emancipation.  If you believe a change in the court order to pay a portion of these expenses is warranted for any reason, you will also need to file a request with the court and get a new court order.

If you are the recipient of child support for a child who has reached the age of child-support emancipation and you are still receiving support payments for that child, be cautious.  You may have to repay any overpayment you receive.  The best course of action is to hold onto any overpayment instead of spending it.  Having the cash on hand to repay will make life easier if and when you are ordered to pay back what you were not entitled to receive.  Even if you spend the funds received directly on the child, you may still have to pay back the funds, so step carefully.

Do you have an 18-year-old and need to discuss your next steps?  Contact Wanzer Edwards to speak with an attorney today!

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Elisabeth M. Edwards Attorney
Elisabeth M. Edwards is a founding attorney at Wanzer Edwards, PC where she practices in the areas of family law and divorce, including collaborative law, family mediation and arbitration, and Parenting Coordination. Ms. Edwards completed her undergraduate degree at Hanover College, majoring in English. She went on to earn her Juris Doctor at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law.