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Child Support Modification Upon Emancipation of a Child

A non-custodial parent’s support obligation generally continues until their child reaches the age of legal majority or becomes emancipated. Where a child has achieved independence from effective parental control, and is no longer dependent upon parental support, the child support obligation may be terminated, even if the child has not yet reached the age of majority. The most common cause of emancipation, however, is attainment of the age of majority.

Traditionally, emancipation meant that the child attained majority at the age of 21. Today, most states have lowered the age of majority from age 21 years to age 18 years. While most states terminate parental support obligations at age 18, some jurisdictions set the outer limit at 19 years of age if the child is still attending high school.

In some states, while a child who has attained age 18 may become emancipated for purposes of child support, the non-custodial parent may still be required to pay a fair share of the post-secondary educational expenses of the post-majority child. In determining whether a parent must contribute to a child’s educational expenses, a court may consider whether the child is likely to benefit from college; whether the child demonstrates the ability to do well, or at least make satisfactory grades; whether the child cannot otherwise go to school; whether the parent has the financial ability to help pay for such an education; whether there are available loans and grants; and whether the child is able to earn income during the school year or on vacation.

A non-custodial parent may seek termination based upon factors other than merely age. Children are emancipated if they are released from the control and authority of their parents. Because emancipation is never presumed, it must be established by competent evidence. The child can be deemed self-supporting if the child has abandoned the parental home or has refused to visit or acknowledge the parents, has interrupted his education, demonstrating neither intent to re-enroll nor attendant circumstances beyond his control, or if the child is receiving assistance under a federal or state program for the disabled. In addition, the support obligation may end if the child enters the Armed Services, marries, or there is an event by which a court determines that a child is or is expected to be self-supporting.

In some jurisdictions, statutory emancipation provides a mechanism by which a young person can file his or her own petition for emancipation. Courts have the discretion to deny petitions if the statutory qualifications are not met or if emancipation would not be in the child’s best interests.

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Robert Reid McInvale
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Robert Reid McInvale is an experienced family law attorney with a comprehensive practice in Houston. He provides dedicated and strong advocacy for his clients, helping them with all the issues surrounding their divorce, separation, child custody, and other marriage and family matters. Attorney McInvale—Reid to clients and friends—seemed destined for a law career. Born while his father was attending Emory University Law School, Reid grew up in Manchester, GA. His father was the city attorney for many years, as well as head of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce. It is in the family blood to become lawyers and help people get justice. U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall is part of the McInvale family tree.

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