From a legal standpoint, the determination as to when child support ends will depend on whether there is a legal agreement between the parents, or, in the absence of an agreement, then the law of the jurisdiction will decide. Laws regarding the support of minor children vary widely around the world. In the United States, the terms of a divorce decree or support order will dictate when child support ends. State law will prevail if the parties have not made an agreement to continue the support for a longer period of time. Emancipation of the child is another way in which child support may end.
Within the United States, child support is ordered when the parents file for a legal separation or divorce, or pursuant to a petition by the custodial parent when the parents were not married at the time of birth of the child. Whether the parents were married or not, a non-custodial parent has an obligation to support the child. When a child is born out of wedlock, paternity must first be legally established before the support obligation begins. In most states, paternity may be established by both parents signing a paternity affidavit or by either parent filing a petition to establish paternity with the appropriate court.
When the parents of the child file for divorce or legal separation, child support will need to be addressed in the separation or divorce agreement. When the parties are able to reach a mutual agreement, the terms of the agreement are submitted to the court and, upon acceptance by the court, become orders of the court. In some cases, the parties may agree to continue child support past the age of majority — 18 in most states — particularly if the child is enrolled in a post-secondary institution. The requirement that the child be enrolled in college, in fact, is often the determining factor that decides when the child support ends.
If the parties were not married, or the terms of the divorce decree left open when child support ends, then the laws of the state where the child resides will determine when child support ends. In most states, the obligation to pay child support ends when the child reaches the age of majority. In some cases, the law will contemplate a child turning 18 while he or she is still in high school and will require support to continue until the child finishes high school.
Emancipation is another way that the obligation to pay child support will terminate. Emancipation is a legal process by which an individual who is under the age of majority petitions the court to obtain a legal determination that the individual is now an adult under the eyes of the law. As part of the decision whether to grant emancipation, the petitioner must usually show the court that he or she is able to support himself or herself. As a result, a parent who has been paying child support will be relieved of the obligation if the emancipation petition is granted.