Emancipation and Child Support

child with parents
Juanmonino/Getty Images

Generally, in the US, parents are legally obligated to take care of and financially support their minor aged children. When a child reaches the age of majority, which means adulthood, parents are usually no longer legally obligated to provide for their offspring, with some exceptions. The age of adulthood may be 18 or 21, depending on the law of the specific state, and this formal designation is considered emancipation, or freedom, for the adult child.

Of course, some parents continue to provide some level of financial support for their offspring beyond the age of 21, even though financial support is not required by law. And, in many families, adult children allow their parents to maintain some level of authority despite the fact that the adult offspring are not legally obligated to abide by parental rules.

Child Support

According to the law, parents have the obligation to continue to support a child financially and to provide housing and food until the child reaches the age of majority. Similarly, non-custodial parent's obligation to provide child support payments will continue until the child reaches the age of majority.

Emancipation of a Minor

A minor child or a teenager may become emancipated before the standard age of adulthood. However, as long as a child is still in the care and custody of a parent, it would be almost impossible for a child to be emancipated. The process, which essentially provides a minor with freedom from his or her parents, can be obtained with legal action. Emancipation is typically initiated and carried out by the minor or another adult, and usually obtained with professional legal assistance.

Reasons Why a Child Would be Emancipated

A child may self-emancipate for any of the following reasons:

  • Marriage: A minor child may seek to justify emancipation due to marriage before the age of 18. Each state may have individual laws about granting emancipation to a minor based on the age of the older spouse, the age at which a marriage is considered legal, as well as laws regarding the statutory rape of a minor.
  • Military service: A military service member may request emancipation and may be considered an adult based on enrollment and fulfillment of military service.
  • Complete abandonment of the parental home: A minor may seek emancipation if the parents are not present or are not financially or physically caring for the minor, have left the home, are abusing the minor or siblings, or are not fulfilling their obligation as parents. Similarly, a minor may seek emancipation if the minor has left the home.
  • Economic independence: If a minor has a source of income, he or she may elect to become emancipated from parents. This type of dispute is seen more often among minors who earn substantially higher salaries than their parents or who are concerned about parental misuse or mismanagement of the minor's earnings or employment contracts.

    Child Support Payments Beyond Emancipation

    When a child is emancipated before the age of majority, parents may seek information about how the formal emancipation impacts child support payments. There are several circumstances under which a parent may still be obligated to provide financial or other support to an emancipated minor. For example, although a child may marry, some courts have ruled that if the child divorces and needs care and custody, the minor may still be entitled to child support.

    Evan after legal emancipation, it is possible that parents may be obligated to continue child support payments for adult offspring. A court may order a parent to continue child support payments beyond emancipation for several reasons:

    • The divorce of the parents: If the divorce agreement included a parental obligation to support children until an age well into adulthood, a court may order parents to fulfill this obligation despite emancipation of the offspring.
    • Special needs of the child: A court may order a parent to continue support payments for an adult child with special needs who cannot care for himself or herself.

    Termination of Child Support Payments 

    Child support payments are not automatically terminated after a child is emancipated. A child support obligor (parent) will have to request for child support payments to be terminated after the child reaches the age of majority or a minor child is emancipated. For more information about child support payments when a child is emancipated, speak with a qualified attorney in your state who can provide you with state-specific regulations and details regarding your own unique situation.