By Molly Murphy
Cordell & Cordell, P.C., Jefferson City, Mo., office
If you have an order of child support against you, you are aware that it needs to be paid every month. Many clients wonder when their child support is going to end.
For example, in the State of Missouri, there are several different ways that child support can end, or be terminated.
Read on for all the ways available to end paying child support.
Emancipation in the State of Missouri is governed by statute and case law. The law states that unless the circumstances of the child manifestly dictate otherwise and the Court specifically so provides, that child support ends when the child dies, marries, enters active duty in the military, becomes self-supporting, reaches eighteen (unless they fall into exceptions) or reaches the age of twenty-one. Self-supporting means that the custodial parent has relinquished the minor child from parental control by express or implied consent. An example of this is when the custodial parent is no longer bearing the majority of the minor child’s expenses. It can also mean the minor child has moved out and has established a separate residence.
Twenty-one is the age of emancipation in the State of Missouri. However, some orders can extend the date of emancipation past the child’s twenty-first birthday to the age of twenty-two, when a certain amount of semesters in college have been reached, or when a child receives a degree. To know for sure, clients need to check their original order, or consult with an attorney.
A caveat to the above applies when the child is physically or mentally incapacitated from supporting himself, insolvent and unmarried, the court may extend child support past the child’s eighteenth or twenty-first birthday. At this point some parents seek legal guardianship over their child. If you are interested in that option, please speak to a probate attorney.
The majority of my clients fall into the specifics of the college exceptions. When a minor child reaches eighteen, and the child is enrolled in and attending a secondary school program of instruction, the child support shall continue. It continues only if the child continues to attend and progress toward completion of said program. Child support ends when the child completes the program, or twenty-one, whichever first occurs. However, the minor child now also has several obligations for said child support to continue. The child must be enrolled in said school by Oct. 1 or Feb. 1 following graduation from high school or an equivalent program. The Court reserves the right to waive the deadline if the circumstances dictate.
The child must be enrolled for and complete twelve hours of classes each semester. They must achieve high enough grades to be reenrolled for the next semester. Further, to remain eligible for support, the child must submit to each parent a transcript or other similar official document from their school which includes the courses the child is currently enrolled in and has completed, the grades and credits received for each course, AND an official document from the school that lists the courses and credits in which the child is enrolled. These documents must be submitted by the beginning of each semester by the child. This cannot be sent by the custodial parent to the parent paying support. If the child does not do this, the child will be considered emancipated.
Another important portion of the law states that if the child receives failing grades in half or more of his course load in one semester, payment of child support can be terminated. This does not refer to course credits. Every university, college or trade school handles failing grades differently. Some give the child an incomplete or give them the class credit. The law addresses solely grades.
Further, at any time, the non-custodial, or paying parent, may request the required documents from the minor child. The child shall produce said documents within thirty days of receipt of their grades. If the child fails to produce the documents, child support can terminate.
There are a few exceptions to the above rules. One applies when a child is employed for at least fifteen hours per week during the semester, they are only obligated to take nine hours of credit a semester and pass. Further, a child who has been diagnosed with a developmental disability, or whose physical disability or health problem limits the child’s ability to carry twelve hours per semester, will still be eligible for child support if they are meeting all the other requirements of the law.
And please don’t forget: at any time, the parent paying support may petition the court to amend their order and have the parent pay the child directly.
When your child is indeed emancipated, do not assume someone else will end this obligation. The burden to end the child support is on the parent or party receiving the support. However, traditionally neither they nor the State of Missouri will end your obligation. I would suggest you contact an attorney or the Circuit Clerk’s office. In the State of Missouri, a party can fill out a form and have the other party served with it. If the opposing party agrees that support should end or the child is the age of twenty-one, the support then ends.
Margaret “Molly” P. Murphy is an Associate Attorney in the Arnold, Missouri office of Cordell & Cordell, P.C. where she practices exclusively in the area of domestic relations. Ms. Murphy is admitted to practice law in the state of Missouri. Ms. Murphy was born and raised in St. Louis. She received her B.A. in Political Science and English Language and Literature in 1998 from the University of Tulsa where she graduated magna cum laude. Ms. Murphy received her Juris Doctor from the University of Missouri-Columbia in 2001.