What Happens to Child Support When a Child Emancipates?
South Carolina Code Section 63-3-530(17) sets forth the conditions under which a child support obligation terminates, giving the family court the authority:
To make all orders for support run until further order of the court, except that orders for child support run until the child is eighteen years of age or until the child is married or becomes self-supporting, as determined by the court, whichever occurs first; or without further order, past the age of eighteen years if the child is enrolled and still attending high school, not to exceed high school graduation or the end of the school year after the child reaches nineteen years of age, whichever is later; or in accordance with a preexisting agreement or order to provide for child support past the age of eighteen years; or in the discretion of the court, to provide for child support past age eighteen where there are physical or mental disabilities of the child or other exceptional circumstances that warrant the continuation of child support beyond age eighteen for as long as the physical or mental disabilities or exceptional circumstances continue.
In simpler terms, unless the parties have a pre-existing agreement that terminates child support at a later date or the child has “ physical or mental disabilities of the child or other exceptional circumstances that warrant the continuation of child support beyond age eighteen,” child support obligations end when the child turns eighteen if the child has graduated high school or is not attending high school, and continues to age nineteen or high school graduation (whichever occurs first) if the child is still in high school on his or her eighteenth birthday.
When emancipation occurs under a support order involving only one child or when the youngest child subject to a support order emancipates, child support terminates automatically. Where the supporting parent is paying through the family court, he or she needs to obtain a court order terminating the support obligation. The form to petition for termination of child support based upon emancipation can be downloaded here. The form order for termination of child support based upon emancipation can be downloaded here.
However, if a child support order involves the support of more than one child, an older child’s emancipation doesn’t terminate, or even alter, child support.
Where one of multiple children becomes emancipated, the family court does not extend the parent’s support obligation on behalf of the emancipated child; the court simply continues the existing support agreement for the benefit of the other minor children until such time as the court, upon request of the supporting parent, can calculate a proper reduction in the support obligation based on a showing of changed circumstances.
Blackwell v. Fulgum, 375 S.C. 337, 652 S.E.2d 427 (Ct.App. 2007).
To reduce child support when one but not all children being supported under a child support order emancipates, one needs to file a child support modification action. There are two common circumstances in which it may not even be worthwhile for the supporting parent to seek modification when one child, but not all of the children, emancipates. The first circumstance is when the supporting parent’s income has increased significantly since child support was last determined. In that case a child support guidelines calculation might result in an increased obligation. The second circumstance is when the emancipating child is only a year or two older than the youngest child. In that case it may be more cost effective to wait until the younger child emancipates and then terminate child support completely than to file a reduction action that will only reduce child support for a limited time period.