It's Graduation. What Happens to Custody and Support?

High school graduation is a significant rite of passage for young people, but it also signals a transition for parents, especially when they are not together. As the graduate prepares to enter the next phase of their life, parents should be aware of the many ways that adulthood can impact their rights and obligations concerning their children.

Termination of Child Support

Unless parties have an enforceable, alternative custodial agreement, ongoing child support obligations end when a child reaches adulthood. In Virginia and Maryland, that age is 18 unless the child is still in high school; in this case, the support obligations extend to 19 or graduation, whichever comes first. In Washington, DC, child support obligations terminate at 21. To be clear, a child reaching adulthood does not impact the duty to pay past due child support. Since many children remain at home, the parent relying on child support should anticipate the end of this resource and plan accordingly.

There are several implications of this transition.

  • Recalculation of Child Support Obligations: If there is more than one child in the family, when a child reaches maturity, the support amount gets recalculated and reduced to reflect the change. Since the courts often take months to issue revised orders, it is essential to plan to request this revision.
  • Support of a Disabled Child: In instances where a child is disabled and a parent wants to seek continued support past the age of maturity, it is important to be aware that the court has the authority to issue a deviation from the usual child support termination rules until the child reaches majority. This means the application for a deviation needs to be filed before then.
  • Residence of Child: Regardless of age, child support terminates if the child no longer resides with the parent receiving support. If a child moves out at age 18, even if they are still in high school, the other parent's child support obligations end.

Termination of Custodial Rights

When a child reaches the age of maturity, the court no longer has the authority to order a child to reside or spend time with either parent. As an adult, for legal purposes, the child can choose where and with whom they want to live. This can lead to upheaval in plans and expectations established in a court-ordered custodial arrangement. Some parents worry they will lose access to their child with this change. However, as an adult, the child has the choice to continue the relationship regardless of the other parent's opinion. Close and continuing contact will not go away just because the child turns 18, but parents should try to plan for this transition by talking to their child.

What if There's a Child Support and Custody Agreement?

If the parents of a child have entered into a written, signed agreement about child support or other details relating to the child, the contract does not become void when the child turns 18. The agreement is enforceable under ordinary contract law in the state of residence. This means that ongoing commitments to provide support for things like college can be enforced by a party to the agreement or the child. The parents can also make agreements about issues like holidays, insurance, and other matters that would not be within the court's power to order past the child's maturity. A child who has reached maturity can decline to comply with the holiday schedule or other living arrangements. However, having the agreement in place helps set expectations and avoid conflict between the parents. If a parent expects that their child will go to college or otherwise need support past maturity, it is important to carefully draft the support and custody agreement so that it can be enforced in the event of non-compliance

ReeseLaw has deep experience working with parents on child support and custody issues. We understand the complexities and nuances that must be included in an agreement to protect the child and the parent. If you wish to schedule a consultation, contact our offices today.

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