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Does Child Support Stop at the Age of 18?


Depending on the state in which you live, there are different laws that govern child support. All states want both parents to share in the financial obligation of raising a child. Generally, the non-custodial parent pays support to the custodial parent based on calculation guidelines in state law. How long the support lasts does vary depending on where you live.

For example, the law in neighboring Massachusetts allows child support to extend up to the age of 23 if the child is dependent and enrolled in undergraduate studies. In Connecticut, the support obligation usually ends when the child completes high school or turns 19. If the child is enrolled in post-secondary education, a judge can order some level of support to continue up to age 23.

Here in Rhode Island, there are no laws that provide for child support during college or other post-secondary education. Child support in Rhode Island ends at age 18, or until 90 days after the child graduates from high school, but not beyond the age of 19.

Determining Amount of Child Support

Child support guidelines are reviewed every four years with changes generally made to the income schedule.

When a court initially determines the amount of child support to be paid, a judge considers the following:

  • Number of Children
  • Incomes of Both Parents
  • Preexisting Child Support Payments
  • Health Insurance Premiums
  • Work-Related Child Care Cost

The court has discretion on whether to consider pension/retirement payments, payments of assigned marital debt, and extraordinary medical expenses of the parents.

Ending Child Support Payments

As mentioned earlier, child support ends when they turn 18 unless the child is still enrolled in high school. In these cases, support can continue until the age of 19. There is no legal duty for a parent to pay for college unless specified in the divorce agreement.

Courts typically do not require the support payments to continue beyond the age of 19 unless the child has a severe disability and continues to live with the custodial parent. The court may periodically review the case to determine if circumstances warrant the continuation of child support.

There are also provisions that allow for support to terminate before the age of 18:

  • The child marries (must have parental consent in Rhode Island).
  • The child joins the military (permission required by the parents and the armed forces).
  • The child successfully petitions a judge to be emancipated.

When a child reaches a threshold that removes the child support burden, the parent’s obligation does not automatically expire. The parent must file a motion to terminate the support with the Rhode Island Family Court. A judge must approve the termination.

Modifying Child Support Payments

There can also be situations when modifying child support is appropriate. Either parent can request a modification with the Rhode Island Family Court. In most cases, there must be a significant change in circumstances to warrant modification. If the judge sets a new amount of support, that order can run retroactive to the date the request was filed.

Changes that may constitute a child support modification include the following:

  • Income increase/decrease of either parent
  • Disability
  • New dependent children
  • Change in costs of daycare
  • Change in costs of medical/dental insurance

Remarriage does not automatically qualify for modifying child support payments. Rhode Island does not believe a new spouse has a legal duty to pay for another person’s child. That said, an increase or decrease in expenses caused by the remarriage might be relevant.

Legal Counsel for Your Child Support Matters

If your child is reaching the threshold for ending support payments or if your situation has changed to warrant a modification, you should retain an experienced attorney in Rhode Island. At McIntyre Tate LLP, we have more than 150 years of combined experience helping our clients through Rhode Island Family Court. We regularly appear before courts in Providence, Kent, Washington, and Newport Counties.

After guiding you through the court process, we will make sure the proper documentation is submitted to the court, the employer, and other entities. This will keep your wages from continuing to be garnished or to be flagged as being in arrears for child support payments.

Schedule your consultation with our experienced counsel by calling (401) 351-7700. You can also reach out through our online form and someone from our office will get back to you promptly.

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