Pushing Them Out of the Nest

No man should bring children into the world who is unwilling to persevere to the end in their nature and education. — Plato

Human beings are the only creatures on earth that allow their children to come back home. — Bill Cosby

Whatever family dynamics control the transition to adulthood, the law occasionally factors in. Beginning July 1, 2012, Indiana will join the majority of states that end child support at an age younger than 21.  The new law essentially moves the age at which the “duty to support” a child ends from 21 down to 19.

In any legal matter–and especially in family courts–it’s important to remember that courts are reactive, not proactive.  Courts respond to requests, motions, and petitions of parties.  They do not look for opportunities to act or to insert their orders or judgments where no one has sought out their assistance. I have always advised clients to be certain that the court handling the child support matters is aware of the child’s 21st birth date (now 19th) as it approaches, and not leave it to the judge, clerk, or prosecutor to magically make the support end.  If the court is not informed, it could lead to overpayment, which leads to the sticky wicket of a support-paying parent asking to get overpayments refunded, which is sometimes difficult to do.

ImageUnder the new law, the support-paying parent will have an easier path to end support sooner. That’s not to say that the support paying parent had no solution to the problem of the lazy 19 year-old until now.  Traditionally, an ambition-deficient 19 year old who had finished high school, was not in college, and refused to find a job could find himself without child support if a parent could show that the 19 year-old was not under the care or control of either parent and that he was capable of supporting himself.  However, this meant the support-paying parent had the legal burden of proving these facts to the court.  Otherwise, he would have to wait until the “automatic” support-ending age of 21.

By moving the automatic support-ending age to 19, the new law might cause a rush of court motions in the short-run, but should reduce them over the long haul.  I expect that a fair number of petitions will come from those supporting children between ages 19 and 21.  The practical difference is that the legal presumption is now in favor of ending support, instead of in favor of maintaining it, for those children 19 or older.

The second important consideration is that the law specifically does not impact “support for educational needs.”  In other words, parents can still be required to kick-in money for college when a student is past the age of 19.  This is unchanged.  However, college support is calculated based upon the costs of college, whereas child support is calculated on the income of the parents, among other factors.

The practical impact on local courts is that it will probably put an end to the practice of what I call “floating support.” Floating Support occurs where a child graduates from high school and goes off to college and rather than put themselves through the tedious and cumbersome college costs calculation, the parents reach a agreement (unwritten or written) to continue to pay regular child support.  Because one or both may have to pay attorneys fees and take time off of work to determine a proper amount of college support (which can change as costs rise or fall every year) parents simply use the figure they know, and ignore the actual college costs.  Since support now presumptively will end when a child turns 19, the support-paying parent has little incentive agree to pay the regular support amount into college, and will be more likely to put the burden on the support-receiving parent (or the student) to prove college support is needed.

If you have a child who is under 19.  Be aware that the duty to support that child now presumptively ends at age 19.  If you believe the child should be assisted with college costs, you should make such a request prior to the child turning 19.

If you have a child who is between 19 and 21.  Be aware that a court could end the support obligation. If the child is a college student and should be assisted with college costs, you may want to petition the court to enter a college support order.