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Child Support for Children Over the Age of 18 in Massachusetts

How does child support work for “children” who are over 18, but are still dependent on a parent? Let’s call them “young adults.” What if the young adult works or is still attending college?

The court may order child support to continue beyond age 18 if the young adult is still “dependent” on a parent. And it may continue from ages 21-23 if the young adult is dependent on a parent and enrolled in undergraduate studies.

When does it end? Child support must terminate if the young adult is “emancipated.” A young adult becomes emancipated by no longer being “dependent” on a parent, which involves a number of factors. Some ways in which emancipation can occur are that the young adult moves out of the home and no longer lives with a parent, completes undergraduate studies, works full-time and no longer needs support, or joins the military full-time.

Recent Changes to Child Support Guidelines
Child support is determined by the MA Child Support Guidelines, which is revised every 4 years. On 9/15/17, as part of the most recent revisions, the Guidelines provided more guidance on the issue of child support for young adults. How does that affect payments, will they be higher or lower?

Here are the key recent changes:

Presumptive Reduction for Children Over 18 & No High School
The recently enacted changes include that if the young adult is over 18 and has graduated from high school, but is still dependent on a parent, the law creates a presumption that child support will be reduced by 25%. The reasoning is that in many cases, young adults earn their own income or are not working and should be, or they may be away at school, which generally reduces the care-taking parent’s expenses.

Cap on College Costs
Under MA law, parents may be obligated to contribute to college costs. College costs and child support are intertwined, so if a parent is paying college expenses, that will be taken into account in fashioning a child support order and vice versa.

The most recent Guidelines also establishes a presumptive contribution limit. It caps a parent’s contributions toward college at half of the undergraduate in-state resident cost of attending Umass Amherst.

This is not as much a new concept as it is that the Guidelines emphasize that deviation should be used when appropriate. No two circumstances in a child support case are exactly the same. Therefore, there’s no need to blindly accept a mechanical calculation. Judges should take into account the particular facts and circumstances of each case in fashioning an order.

Child support may continue beyond 18 if a child is “dependent,” and may extend to 23 if the child is “dependent” and enrolled in undergraduate studies.

Recent changes to Child Support Laws in MA include a presumptive reduction for young adults who are no longer in high school and a cap on the parents’ contributions toward college expenses. The law also encourages “deviation” from the recommended guidelines amount to account for the specific facts and circumstances of the case.

If there are any changes that warrant modification or termination of a child support order, either parent may file a complaint for modification in the Probate & Family Court. Before filing, you may want to consider whether you’d benefit from an assessment from an attorney to help you understand your rights and develop a plan if necessary.

If you have any questions about child support, please don’t hesitate to contact us.



Does child support automatically stop at 21?
Not necessarily. The Department of Revenue (DOR) in MA usually automatically terminates a child support obligation when the young adult reaches 21, especially if DOR is not aware of the need for continued support. However, if the young adult is still dependent on a parent and in undergraduate studies at least close to full-time, child support may continue to age 23. The best course is: If the young adult is approaching 21 and dependent on you and DOR is involved, notify DOR that you need continued support and verify that they will keep collecting it for you. On the other hand, if instead you need to terminate support and DOR is involved, contact them as age 21 approaches to determine whether they will automatically terminate. If either DOR will not automatically terminate or DOR is not involved, you may have to file a Complaint for Modification to terminate support.
When does child support end in Massachusetts?
Child support ends in Massachusetts when the child is “emancipated.” This happens when the child is over 18 and graduated from high school and no longer dependent on a parent and from age 21-23, when the child is no longer dependent on the parent or not enrolled at least close to full-time in an undergraduate schooling program.
Does child support continue through college in Massachusetts?
Child support can continue through college in MA so long as the young adult is under 23, remains dependent on a parent and living with that parent—at least when not away at school—and enrolled in an undergraduate program.
What is the minimum amount of child support in Massachusetts?
The minimum child support amount in Massachusetts is $25 per week. This is typically ordered when the non-custodial parent has no income.
Is child support mandatory in Massachusetts?
No, child support is not necessarily mandatory in Massachusetts. There may be no child support if 1) Neither party files for support, 2) The parties agree to no child support and the court approves the agreement, or 3) The parties share physical custody and the child support guidelines recommend no support and the court agrees.

Recent Cases

Issue: Father’s Rights / Relocation

Case Details: Mother had been primary caretaker of the children throughout their lives. Attorney Farias represented Father, who was breadwinner. Mother put a restraining order on father alleging abuse of herself and the children and left MA with the children to live in another state. Attorney Farias argued the move was not in children’s best interest, and was only for mother’s benefit of living with a new boyfriend. After hearing, the judge ordered that the children must be returned to MA and visitation was established with Father. After a subsequent hearing, Father was granted sole legal and physical custody of the children.

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