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Support over age 18 when custodial parent earns more

I understand that child support over the age of 18 is at the discretion of the court if the child plans to attend college. Does the amount of support stay the same once a child turns 18? This is a rare situation where the mother's earnings are substantial compared to the father's. The mother's household earns enough that the child does not qualify for financial aid. While it is appropriate that the support continue, I am curious if the child's age factors into a support total on the MA support worksheet.

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Submitted Wed, 09/03/2014 - 10:10

Hi there. The child support worksheet does not take into account age. So for those children over 18 who the court determines aren't emancipated, and therefore, the other parent is still entitled to child support, the court has discretion as to what that precise *amount* will be given that the payor parent is usually paying for college expenses. As a result of that contribution, it would be inappropriate to have that parent also pay the amount dictated by the worksheet to the recipient parent. And so, a lower amount may be ordered.

As a mediator and attorney who helps spouses, former spouses, and former couples arrive at agreements with respect to their separation, I would strongly encourage you to mediate this scenario with your ex. There is a significant cost to litigating this (both financial and emotional), especially given that a judge will have wide latitude to make a decision and the "default" of the worksheet is arguably inappropriate.

Mediation is typically far less expensive and emotionally taxing. And, especially based on the income disparity you mentioned & the financial aid issue, it would certainly be worth a joint effort to arrive at a fair result to everyone, including your child. I offer free initial consultations, many mediators do, and so I would recommend speaking with one of us.

Best of luck,

Meredith Lawrence

Submitted Wed, 09/03/2014 - 09:25

You are correct that a child over the age of 18 may be eligible for continued child support from the non-custodial parent, under specific circumstances. It is not "at the court's discretion", however, but covered under relevant statutes.
(Please read my blog on the subject: When Can I stop Paying Child Support, found in the Q&A section of my website:

If the issue of when child/ren are emancipated and non-custodial parent can stop paying support obligation was not addressed in the Divorce Agreement or Judgment, the issue may be raised by filing a Complaint for Modification. Typically this is done by the non-custodial parent who wishes to have the child support obligation terminated by order of the court. However, the custodial parent can also file the same complaint to enforce continued support payment. In other words, the Complaint for Modification is the vehicle by which the issue may be brought to the attention of the court.

I suggest you start by looking at the Divorce Agreement/Judgment for any reference to the terms of emancipation. Chances are, this has been discussed to a lesser or greater extent at the time of the divorce and incorporated into the Divorce Judgment either after a trial or by stipulation/agreement.

In any event, a complaint for modification can be filed where a "substantial change in circumstances" has occurred and therefore a review or change in existing orders should be considered by the court. The child attaining age 18 can be viewed as such a change.

In answer to your specific questions:
a) the age of the child is relevant only insofar as 18 is the legal age of emancipation. The court may make appropriate orders of maintenance, support and education for any child who has attained age eighteen but who has not attained age twenty-one, who is domiciled in the home of a parent and is principally dependent upon said parent for maintenance. The court may make appropriate orders of maintenance, support and education for any child who has attained age twenty-one but who has not attained age twenty-three if such child is domiciled in the home of a parent, and is principally dependent upon said parent for maintenance due to the enrollment of such child in an educational program, excluding educational costs beyond an undergraduate degree. The Court will not enter an order of support for any child over age 23, or who has completed an undergraduate degree, whichever comes first.

b)Does the amount of support remain the same? The amount of support may be changed, if present circumstances require it and if a complaint for modification comes before the Court. MA enacted new child support guidelines in 2010. If the existing order of support was entered prior to this time, it is possible that a different amount may be ordered. (See: for most recent guideline rules and regulations). A change is support order is not based on the child's age, per se, but rather on the finances of the parents.

c)You mention "The mother's household" income. You should be aware that the "household income" (meaning a parent and a new spouse) is not the basis for recalculation of support. Only the actual parent's income is considered for support calculation purposes. As a general rule, a new spouse is not obligated to pay for the support of a child from spouse's prior relationship. I qualify this answer only because, in some instances where the new spouse's income is significant (over $250,000/yr) a case has been made that the new spouse's income mitigates certain maintenance costs of the parent, and therefore the defrayed amount has been imputed to the custodial parent.

I hope this clarifies the issue for you. If you wish to discuss the particulars of your situation in depth, do not hesitate to contact my office for a consultation.

Estela Matta, Esq.

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