Legally Valid Reasons to Stop Paying Child Support

Hossein Berenji, Aug 26, 2020

California law holds that each parent is equally responsible for the financial support of a child. The court cannot enforce this obligation until it has made an order for support. If your child is the subject of an order to support, that support is owed until the child turns 18, or 19 if they are still in high school and unable to support themselves.

In most child support cases, it is only legal to stop paying child support in a few specific circumstances.

The Child Turns 18

The standard end to child support is when the child turns 18, except for children who are still full-time high school students, still living at home, which means child support can last until 19.

Many parents continue to pay some form of support after a child turns 18 and graduates high school. Whether it is college tuition, room, and board, or helping them buy a car, few parents can stop all financial support when a child turns 18. However, under California law, the individual is considered an adult, and support is no longer a legal duty.

The Child Marries

When a child marries or enters a domestic partnership, California law then sees them as an adult. Given their adult status, neither parent owes them a duty of support, and you can legally stop paying child support.

The Child Joins the Military

Once a child joins the United States Armed Forces, they are no longer owed a duty of support by their parents, and it is legal to stop paying child support. Usually, this only happens when a child graduates early, or gets a GED, and joins the military at age 17.

A Child Dies

If a child who is the subject of an order of support dies, the order of support is no longer in effect, and there is no longer an obligation to pay child support.

The Child is Legally Emancipated

In California, a child can file a Petition for the Emancipation of a Minor. Emancipation is a legal process that frees the minor from parental control.

The child will have to prove that they are at least fourteen years of age and that they have a legal way to earn money. They must also affirm that they do not want to live with their parents and that their parents do not mind if they move out. The minor, or their legal representative, will also have the burden of proof of showing that the emancipation will be in the best interest of the minor.

If the emancipation is granted, the parents no longer owe a duty of support to the minor. The parents are also freed from any liability arising from the minor’s torts. For all legal purposes, emancipation turns your minor child into an adult, with all the rights of an adult conveyed to them.

Termination of Parental Rights

If you give up your parental rights to a child, usually so that they can be adopted by a step-parent, you are no longer responsible for child support. Termination of parental rights is permanent, and you will no longer have any form of custody or rights to your child. To stop non-custodial parents from relinquishing their rights simply to avoid paying child support,  you can not terminate your parental rights without the full agreement of the other parent.

My Child Has Special Needs. How Long Will I Need to Pay Support?

Parents can always agree to support a child for longer than the law requires. The court can also order that both parents owe a duty of support to a disabled child past their 18th birthday.  An adult child with special needs can create a complicated child support case.

The wording of the law leaves some ambiguity, and much discretion is left to the court when determining the length of time and the amount parents must pay to support a disabled child. The code states that “The father and mother have an equal responsibility to maintain, to the extent of their ability, a child of whatever age who is incapacitated from earning a living and without sufficient means.”

The ambiguity arises from the number of ways “without sufficient means” can be defined. The family court can deem a young adult incapable of earning a living, yet they can be denied Social Security Disability.

Problems can also arise when one parent disagrees that the child is incapable of self-support. If there is a valid disagreement, the court may order an independent exam to confirm the mental or physical disability. The parent who believes the child is not incapable, but unwilling to try, can also request a full vocational assessment for the child.

If the adult child does qualify for Supplemental Security Income through the Social Security Administration, then they do have some income. At that time, the court will probably consider the extent of each parents’ ability to provide additional financial support.

If neither parent is well-off, the court could determine that the SSI income is “sufficient means.” If you or your spouse have significant financial means, the court may require you to support the child indefinitely.

Child support for a disabled child can be a difficult issue to settle, but a family law attorney familiar with California case law can help guide you through the process.