Often parents will want to know how long they will receive child support or how long they will be required to pay child support. The answer to this differs throughout the United States. In some states, the obligation ends at age 18 while in others, the obligation can continue throughout college. While it may seem confusing that child support can continue once your child is legally an adult, in Massachusetts child support can continue after the age of 18.
In Massachusetts, typically ends when a child is deemed to be emancipated. This term is defined by statute in Massachusetts. Pursuant to statute, child support in Massachusetts does not automatically end when the child turns 18 or graduates high school. Under Mass General Law c. 208, sec. 28, and Mass. General Law. C. 209c, sec. 9, child support can continue for a child from age 18 until age 21, who is domiciled in the home of a parent, and is principally dependent upon said parent for support. Additionally, the court can still order support for a child who has turned 21, but who has not attained age 23, if such child is domiciled in the home of a parent, and is principally dependent upon said parent for maintenance due to the enrollment of such child in an educational program, excluding educational costs beyond an undergraduate degree. Even if you had an agreement that child support was to terminate at age 18, if the child is not emancipated you may be able to file a Complaint for Modification to extend child support.
What does “principally dependent mean?”
Typically, this means that the child resides with the parent. However, if the child is enrolled in college, and returns home for breaks from college, that child is still deemed to be principally dependent.
Child Support Guidelines
The recent Massachusetts Child Support Guidelines provide some further guidance on the issue of support past age 18 in Massachusetts. The guidelines provide that “by statute, the Court has discretion either to order or to decline to order child support for children age 18 or older.” Pursuant to the guidelines “in determining whether to order child support for a child age 18 or older, the Court shall consider the reason for the child’s continued residence with and principal dependence on the recipient, the child’s academic circumstances, the child’s living situation, the available resources of the parents, and each parent’s contribution to the costs of post-secondary education for the child and/or other children of the family. The Court may also consider any other relevant factors.”
The guidelines further provide that “If the Court exercises its discretion to order child support for children age 18 or older, the guidelines formula reduces the amount of child support in accordance with Table C of the guidelines worksheet. For the guideline’s calculation to account for families with children both under age 18 and age 18 or older, the guidelines worksheet requires the input of information regarding the number of children age 18 or older and under age 18.” Although in the past courts often reduced child support when a child went to college, particularly if the payor was contributing to the cost of college, the 25% reduction for children over the age of eighteen is the first time that the guidelines in Massachusetts have incorporated a preemptive reduction for children over age eighteen.
Payors of child support may be entitled to a substantial reduction in their child support obligation once their child turns 18. The addition of a presumptive reduction to the child support guidelines calculation means that more families may be able come to an agreement about a re-calculation of child support and utilize the relatively new option to file a Joint Petition for Modification.
If you have any questions regarding your child support obligation or a potential modification of your child support order, please do not hesitate to contact the experienced family law attorneys at Wilchins Cosentino and Novins at 781-247-8022, or schedule a call here.