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What You Need to Know about Legally Terminating Your Child Support Payments

— April 30, 2024

A non-custodial parent can legally stop child support payments, but the order must come from the court. This is why it’s so important to discuss the matter with your attorney before stopping your child support payment.

When parents legally separate and ultimately divorce, it’s a given that the non-custodial parent will be tasked with paying a certain amount of child support every week, as determined by the courts. Any parent who feels they can get away without fulfilling this obligation is fooling him or herself, and in fact, could face jail time. But that doesn’t mean specific circumstances exist under which you are no longer legally obligated to pay child support.

But before deciding for yourself what you can and cannot do when it comes to the legalities and illegalities behind divorce, you need to consult with a reputable divorce lawyer, preferably one who specializes in custody. Says the professionals at the Law Offices of Laura Gillis, a custody attorney in Phoenix, AZ, a good child custody attorney should have extensive knowledge of family law. They should have the know-how to assist you with understanding your obligations and rights under the law, including your rights when it comes to paying child support.

That said, what do you need to know about legally terminating your child support payments? “Legally” being the key word here. According to a report by Very Well Family, many divorced parents find themselves wondering if there are rules established for the termination of their child support mandate.  

For example, can a parent stop the payments if the other parent is refusing to grant child visitation? Can a parent stop payment obligations if the child is past 18 years old, graduated from high school, and wishes to be emancipated? Perhaps the older child has renounced the non-custodial, child support paying parent and even changed his or her name.

These issues and questions must all be addressed legally prior to pursuing termination of child support.

Ending Child Support Over a Pause in Visitation

Some parents feel as though it’s only fair that they stop child support payments when visitations stop occurring. On the surface, this might seem fair, but it can cause a lot of difficulty in the courts. This is because court-ordered child support payments are mandated to continue even if a problem arises with the relationship between the two parents or the parent and the child. In a word, you should not choose to stop paying child support simply because the child is no longer visiting regularly.  

Courts consider visitation and child support as two separate issues. If you have been awarded court-appointed parenting time and your ex is no longer cooperating, you need to contact your lawyer about the situation. In turn, the lawyer will likely petition the family court to resume regular visits.  

Special Circumstances

Parents are Willing to Sacrifice to Support Child's Mental Health
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All too often when the parent charged with paying child support suddenly stops, it’s because there is something going on behind the curtain, so to speak. It’s possible the parent has lost his or her job, for instance. That said, is there a genuine change in circumstances that would warrant a child support adjustment?

If you are a parent who is having trouble paying regular child support payments, you need to be proactive about it. This means contacting the court that issued the original financial mandate to talk over your options. This is a far preferable choice than simply taking a risk on stopping payments altogether. If you decide to do this, you can lose your driver’s license or even go to jail.  

Child Emancipation

Says Very Well Family, in more rare instances, a child who is approaching adulthood will request emancipation if they no longer wish to share a relationship with one of the parents. If a child does become emancipated, the court will likely relieve the non-custodial parent of child support obligations.

Legal emancipation of the older child will depend on a variety of factors including the following:

A Child’s Age: The appropriate age for emancipation can differ by the presiding court and the state. Some courts view 16 as an appropriate age while others will see 16 as too young to make the mature decision to emancipate. Most states view 18 as the more appropriate age.

A Child’s Level of Maturity: A court will listen carefully to an older child’s ability to clearly express their desire for emancipation and in doing so, determine if the argument displays adequate maturity. Other factors include whether the child is a good and responsible student, and if the child is employed.   

Defining Emancipation

From a legal standpoint, a judge is required to interview the child about the plans to become emancipated. If emancipation is granted, the non-custodial parent’s child support mandate will come to an end. But even if emancipation is granted, courts are sometimes reluctant to end child support since there exists the possibility of the state having to step in to financially provide for the older child.

In the end, divorce is never easy. It becomes more complicated if you and your ex share a child. A non-custodial parent can legally stop child support payments, but the order must come from the court. This is why it’s so important to discuss the matter with your attorney before stopping your child support payment.

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