Whether negotiated as part of a divorce or a custody agreement, a child support obligation may extend for many years after the initial family law case has concluded. In certain instances, such as with a child deemed incapacitated/dependent, child support may extend indefinitely.
In this blog post we will provide an overview of when child support will terminate, and why. That way, whether you are the payor or the payee of child support, you will fully understand your rights and responsibilities, as well as those inuring to your child(ren).
When Does Florida Child Support Terminate?
We’ll start with the general and move to the specific. Keep in mind that as with many areas of the law, child support termination dates are extremely fact and case sensitive.
The bulk of Florida’s child support laws are codified in STAT §61.13 (2020), the recently revised state child support statute which provides that child support shall: “…Terminate on a child’s 18th birthday unless the court finds or previously found that STAT §743.07(2) applies, or [it] is otherwise agreed to by the parties.”
The language in the above statutes applies to all child support matters dated after 2010. Accordingly, if your child support order predates 2010, the termination of child support/emancipation analysis outlined below may not apply. One major difference is that prior to 2010, the parties would often include a child support end date in their settlement agreements. Today, child support is generally left open-ended.
Now that you have a general understanding of child support termination law, let’s consider some exceptions to the rule.
What are the Exceptions to Age Eighteen Child Support Termination?
STAT §743.07(2) provides two common exceptions to the Florida child support statutes. Firstly, the Legislature notes that a child diligently pursuing a high school degree will not be deemed emancipated until they graduate, or they turn nineteen, whichever occurs first.
STAT §61.13 (2020), also provides that child support may be altered by the “agreement of the parties.” But note that child support is a right that belongs to the unemancipated child(ren). The parties may agree to extend child support beyond what is required by the law, but may not agree to reduce support that is legally due.
STAT §743.07(2) provides another crucial emancipation exception. Specifically, it states that a child shall not be deemed emancipated if they are dependent because of a “mental or physical incapacity which began prior to such person reaching majority.”
Such individuals, which may include children with special needs, may never be deemed independent, and thus child support will continue for the duration of their lives or until they are no longer considered “legally dependent.”
This statute does not apply, however, when someone becomes disabled after they have already reached the age of majority. For example, if a “child” was twenty years old and attending college at the time they became legally incapacitated, neither parent would have a legal obligation of support, as their child had already reached the “age of majority” before they became incapacitated.
Regarding incapacity, such as for certain children with special needs, emancipation will need to be determined on a case-by-case basis consistent with the law. The important takeaway here is that child support and emancipation are sometimes, but not always tied, to the age of a child. In certain limited instances, however, child support may be due to a child that has reached the legal age of majority.
As with all child support, monies will generally be paid from the “obligor parent” to the “obligee parent” and Florida’s child support guidelines will be utilized to determine the sum due looking to parental salary, amount of parenting time, and so on. Obligor is a legal term for the party that owes support and obligee the term for the party to which support is due.
Now that we have a firm grasp of Florida emancipation law, let’s briefly review the exceptions.
A child is generally deemed emancipated (and child support terminated) when a child reaches eighteen years of age, which is known as the age of majority. However, child support may be extended when:
- The parties both agree to extend the term of child support; or,
- If a child is younger than nineteen and still pursuing a good-faith high school education, then support shall continue until age nineteen or high school graduation, whichever first occurs; or
- The parties’ child is or became legally incapacitated prior to reaching the age of majority, in which instance child support shall continue indefinitely for the duration of the child’s life until such time the child is no longer deemed legally incapacitated, which is also known as legally “dependent.”
There are exceptions to every rule, and then exceptions to the exceptions, but the above provides a general overview of emancipation/child support termination law in Florida. There are also limited instances when child support may be terminated before reaching eighteen years of age.
Emancipation of Children Before They Reach the Age of Majority
In rare instances child support may also end prior to the age of eighteen. Such circumstances would include when a child petitions for emancipation from their parents, marries, or enters the armed forces prior to reaching the age of majority. But in no instance will a child in Florida be deemed emancipated prior to the age of sixteen.
This is because a child must be at least sixteen (16) years of age to successfully petition for emancipation (a formal legal process), and at least seventeen (17) to enlist in the U.S. armed forces with parental consent. Additionally, a child between sixteen (16) and eighteen (18) will need parental consent to marry in Florida.
Questions About Child Support? Ready to Act?
As you now understand, the termination of Florida child support is quite fact sensitive. Retaining an experienced family law firm is essential to understanding your rights and responsibilities under the revised laws. You don’t want to overpay child support, or conversely, to not receive what your unemancipated children are entitled to. We’re here for you, whether you’re considering an enforcement action, or an action to terminate your child support obligation.
If you’re confronting child support termination issues, please call (800) 822-5170 today to schedule an initial consultation with the Virga Law Firm, P.A. Or utilize our contact form to learn more about your child support termination rights.
We look forward to working with you.