At what age can a child become emancipated?

Your baby is not a baby anymore. When a child becomes emancipated in MA and there’s a child support order in place, big financial changes may be coming.

Once a young adult is 18 or graduated from high school, the young adult is generally emancipated if he/she: is no longer living with either parent, joins the military full-time, marries, or is working full-time.

However, in MA, a child—or “young adult”—may remain dependent for child support purposes all the way until the age of 23, depending on the circumstances. This is much different than in many other states, including our sister state RI, where children are emancipated at age 18, or the latest, upon graduation from high school.

How emancipation works in MA is easier to understand if you think of continued child support past the age of 18 falling into two categories.

First, between the ages of 18-21, if the young adult is still “dependent” on the parent, then child support continues. To be dependent, the young adult must be living with the parent and rely on the parent for support. Judges have some discretion on what constitutes “dependence.” For example, if the young adult is working full-time, the court may consider that person emancipated even if still living with the parent. But if the young adult is going to school and only working part-time, child support will likely continue.

In this age category, it’s important to understand that even if the young adult goes away to school, but still lives with the parent during breaks for example, the young adult may still be considered dependent and child support will likely still continue.

The next age bracket is between 21-23. In this category, if the young adult is still dependent on the parent AND is attending school at least close to full-time, child support may continue until age 23.

They key difference between this category and the 18-21 category, is that if the young adult is 21-23 and is not going to school at least close to full-time, the judge will likely find emancipation.

Understanding how child support works in these age groups is important not only because it determines when child support will end—but it also dictates when child support can be adjusted.

In MA, once a child turns 18 or graduates from high school, whichever comes later, a different child support calculation is triggered, which effectively reduces support by about 25%. However, when a child is beyond age 18, there’s also a question of whether parents should contribute to college expenses, which is determined by the terms of the court judgment and/or a judge if it’s a contested issue.

Understanding how emancipation works can help you better plan your financial future. If you have any questions about emancipation or child support generally, feel free to contact us.

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