When Does Child Support Terminate and Under What Conditions in San Diego for a Paternity, Legal Separation or Divorce Case

Hossein Berenji, Jun 16, 2021

Parents are expected to support their children financially. If the parents are not married or do not live together, the court may order one parent to make child support payments to the other parent. There are several ways child support can start.

Likewise, several triggers end child support payments. If you are paying or receiving child support payments, you need to know when those payments end. If you stop paying child support payments too early, you could face severe penalties for violating a child support order.

How Does Child Support Work in California?

A child support obligation may result from a legal separation, annulment, or divorce action. In addition, child support may be ordered as part of a case involving a petition to establish a parental relationship (paternity action), request a restraining order for domestic violence, or a petition for custody and support of minor children.

Child support can also be ordered through the local child support agency (LCSA). The LCSA can establish parentage through paternity tests. The agency assists parents in obtaining child support and enforcing child support orders.

In all cases, the proper amount of child support is calculated based on the California child support formula.

Factors that impact the amount of child support parents pay include:

  • Each parents’ income
  • Any other income each parent receives
  • The amount of time each parent spends with the child (time-sharing plan)
  • How many children the parents have together
  • How many children each parent supports from other relationships
  • Health insurance expenses
  • The tax filing status for each parent
  • The cost of uninsured health care expenses and daycare costs
  • Mandatory union dues

The court might also consider other factors when calculating child support by the guidelines. For example, the court might require a parent to contribute to a child’s special needs, educational needs, or reasonable health care expenses.

When Does Child Support End?

The court order awarding child support often specifies when support payments end. If not, the obligation generally ends whenever one of the following situations occurs:

  • The child turns 18 years of age and is not enrolled in high school full-time
  • The child turns 19 years of age or graduates high school
  • The child passes away before the age of 18 years
  • The child gets legally married or registers a domestic partnership
  • The child joins the military
  • The child becomes legally emancipated

Parents may voluntarily agree to continue child support payments after the obligation ends. Parents of disabled adult children who cannot support themselves usually work out an arrangement to support their adult children.

What Happens if a Parent Stops Making Child Support Payments?

Suppose you have been ordered by the court to pay child support. In that case, you are legally obligated to continue making child support payments until the court terminates payments or modifies the child support order. California courts are serious about child support enforcement.

If you miss your child support payments, the court may hold you in contempt. There are several penalties the judge may impose for contempt of court.

The judge may order one or more of the following punishments for a parent who fails to pay child support payments:

  • An expensive fine
  • Jail time
  • Community service
  • Order the delinquent parent’s property to be sold to pay the child support arrearage
  • Require the delinquent parent to pay the court costs and legal fees for the court action
  • Garnish the parent’s wages or bank accounts
  • Seize other resources to pay the child support arrearage, such as unemployment compensation, lottery winnings, tax refunds, pension payments, disability benefits, veteran’s disability payments, and workers’ compensation benefits

There could be some assets and sources of income that might be exempt from garnishment. However, the judge is likely to use all resources available to obtain payment of the past-due child support payments.

There could be other penalties for not paying your child support payments. For example, you could lose your driver’s license. In addition, the child support arrearage could be reported to the credit reporting bureaus, which could negatively impact your credit score.

What Should You Do if You Cannot Pay Your Child Support Payments?

Do not ignore the problem. Contact a child support attorney to discuss your options for modifying the child support order. If you lose your job, have a permanent change in income, or other circumstances that substantially change your life, the court might lower your child support payments based on your new financial situation.