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When Does Child Support End?

Each state specifies the age at which child support stops. In North Carolina, NC Gen. Stat. §50-13.4 requires child support to be paid until a child is age 18 or graduates from high school, whichever is longer. Support may end sooner than that if a child becomes emancipated. There is a legal proceeding that allows a minor who is at least 16 years old to file seek a decree of emancipation from a judge. But most commonly, a minor is automatically emancipated when he or she marries or joins the military. Unless parents have agreed otherwise in a separation agreement or consent order, if parents have multiple children, support does not automatically drop by 50% when another child graduates or reaches 18, etc. Instead, child support is recalculated based on the remaining child or children if a parent files a motion to modify support.

Ages 18 to 20

Support may last longer than graduation or turning 18 if the 18-year-old is still in school after reaching age 18 but hasn’t graduated. In that event, child support continues until he or she quits high school, fails to attend school on a regular basis or make satisfactory academic progress towards graduation, or reaches age 20, whichever is first. “If the child is enrolled in a cooperative innovative high school program . . . then payments shall terminate when the child completes his or her fourth year of enrollment or when the child reaches the age of 18, whichever occurs later.” NC Gen. Stat. §50-13.4 (c)(3).

Arrearages (Past Due Support)

There is one big exception to the general rule. If a parent owes an outstanding child support arrearage and support is paid via wage withholding, the payments will continue in the same amount but they will be applied to the outstanding arrearages until they are satisfied. For example, if a child reaches 18 but a parent still owes an arrearage, his or her wage withholding will remain in effect even after the child reaches 18 until all of the “back child support” payments have been paid.

Support from Grandparents

When a minor has a baby, the grandparents have primary liability for the support of the grandchild. However, the parent of the baby is secondarily liable for the baby’s support. The court determines the proper share of financial responsibility for the baby. The grandparent’s responsibility for child support ends for both the parent and the grandchild when the minor parent reaches the age of 18 or becomes emancipated. If only one of the baby’s parents was a minor when the child was conceived, all four of the baby’s grandparents are liable for child support arrearages that were owed by the adult (or emancipated) parent until the other parent reaches the age of 18 or becomes emancipated.

College Expenses

The court can’t order a parent to pay college expenses. However, the court will enforce an agreement for college expenses made by the parents in a separation agreement or consent order. If parents agreed to pay a share of college expenses, the child has the right to sue one or both of them for failure to pay those expenses. The court will also enforce an agreement between parents to pay child support past the age of 18 (regardless of college).

Further Reading:

When Does Child Support End for Special Needs Children?

This article is current as of 2019. ©

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