Child support is money owed by one parent to the other parent for the purpose of supporting the child that the other parent is caring for.
“In a proceeding under this chapter [DISSOLUTION OF MARRIAGE; SUPPORT; TIME-SHARING], the court may at any time order either or both parents who owe a duty of support to a child to pay support to the other parent or, in the case of both parents, to a third party who has custody in accordance with the child support guidelines schedule in s[ection]. 61.30.” Fla. Stat. Sec. 61.13(1)(A)
Every Florida child support order must have a termination date. The termination date is usually the child’s 18th birthday.
“As a general rule, the legal duty of a parent to support his children ceases at the age of majority.” Kern v. Kern, 360 So. 2d 482 – Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 4th Dist. 1978
“All child support orders and income deduction orders entered on or after October 1, 2010, must provide:
a. For child support to terminate on a child’s 18th birthday unless the court finds or previously found that s. 743.07(2) applies, or is otherwise agreed to by the parties;” Fla. Stat. Sec. 61.13(1)(A)(1)
In Florida, a child’s 18th birthday terminates child support unless the court finds the child has a disability or the child will likely still be in high school (and will not have turned 19 yet).
“This section [Rights, privileges, and obligations of persons 18 years of age or older] shall not prohibit any court of competent jurisdiction from requiring support for a dependent person beyond the age of 18 years when such dependency is because of a mental or physical incapacity which began prior to such person reaching majority or if the person is dependent in fact, is between the ages of 18 and 19, and is still in high school, performing in good faith with a reasonable expectation of graduation before the age of 19.” Fla. Stat. Sec. 743.07(2)
Age 18 is the standard date for child support to terminate in Florida. The parties can agree on a later date (usually high school graduation that a court would award anyways) or the courts can order a later termination date (but not later than age 19).
“Ordinarily, a child support order terminates automatically on a child’s eighteenth birthday. This is because a parent has no legal duty to continue to provide support to a child who has reached the age of majority unless the trial court has made a finding of dependence pursuant to section 743.07(2), Florida Statutes (2010)” Dixon v. Dixon, 233 So. 3d 1285 – Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 2nd Dist. 2018 (citations omitted)
If nothing is agreed to by the parties in the original or subsequent child support orders, the child turning age 18 is the automatic termination date.
A “final judgment’s silence on the continuing obligation of support after the child’s eighteenth birthday results in the… [support] obligation … also terminating upon the child’s eighteenth birthday.” Phillips v. Phillips, 83 So.3d 903, 905 (Fla. 2d DCA 2012)
When the original child support is for multiple children and the obligor’s support obligation as to one child ends when the oldest turns 18, “the obligor is entitled to a retroactive reduction pre-dating a modification petition, consistent with the statutory child support guidelines” Gilbert v. Cole, 107 So.3d 426, 427-28 (Fla. 1st DCA 2012)
“Children who have early-in-the-year birthdays and who will turn nineteen before a June graduation, are entitled to no support during their eighteenth year, even though they are in need, in school, and ‘on track.” Walworth v. Klauder, 615 So. 2d 219 – Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 5th Dist. 1993
A Florida divorce court has no wiggle room. Child support always stops at age 19 unless there is a finding that the child has a disability.
A “trial court’s award of child support ‘until the parties’ minor child reaches the age of 19 or upon her graduation from high school, whichever occurs first” [is in] error.” Drake v. Drake, 686 So. 2d 753 – Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 1st Dist. 1997
Parties can contract in their Marital Settlement Agreement to terminate child support upon the children’s 18th birthdays….not the children’s high school graduation.
“The policy of requiring parents to support their children is limited to their minority and dependency. The statute does not itself require the parent to continue to support the child after reaching majority while in the last year of high school. Rather it merely authorizes the court to do so if the statutory conditions are met.” Rose v. Rose, 8 So. 3d 1251 – Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 4th Dist. 2009
Most marital settlement agreements will include an automatic provision to stop child support on a date certain. Almost all marital settlement agreements will also set child support for the remaining minor children when the current child support amount automatically terminates. This process repeats in what is called a “step-down” order.
If there is no automatic child support termination date or a step-down order, it is incumbent on the child support payor to file a motion to modify child support…or the support doesn’t change.
“The general rule is that when the child support provision fails to allocate the amount of support attributable to each child, the trial court cannot retroactively terminate child support before the date the petitioner requested such relief.” Rodgers v. Reed, 931 So. 2d 236 – Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 5th Dist. 2006 (quotations and citations omitted)
If a motion to modify child support is filed late, a Florida court can go back to the date the child emancipated.
“[I]f there must be resort to the court for recalculation of the child support amount for the remaining children, then the recalculation is retroactive to the date the child attained eighteen (or had another qualifying event)” Karten v. Karten, 983 So.2d 17, 19 (Fla. 3d DCA 2008)
If the marital settlement agreement or child support order does not specify the remaining minor children’s child support, the court must determine the support (unless the parents agree).
Where “the language in the child support agreement is not clear as to the exact amount the child support is to be reduced by upon a child’s emancipation….[the court must] hold an evidentiary hearing to determine the correct amount of arrearages and the appropriate reduction in child support payments” Lehman v. Department of Revenue, 946 So. 2d 1116 – Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 4th Dist. 2006
Other Child Expenses After Age 18 In Florida
A parent’s obligation for all other expenses beyond ordered (or to be ordered) child support ceases on the child’s 18th birthday. This includes an adult child’s medical and college expenses.
“[T]he parent of an emancipated child is not liable for his child’s hospital and medical services” Ison v. Fla. Sanitarium & Benevolent Ass’n, 302 So.2d 200, 201-02 (Fla. 4th DCA 1974)
“[A] trial court may not order post-majority support simply because the child is in college and the divorced parent can afford to pay.” Grapin v. Grapin, 450 So. 2d 853, 854 (Fla. 1984)
Of course, parents are welcome to agree to support their children past their 18th birthday.
“When parties to a dissolution proceeding agree to educate their child after the child reaches [the] age of majority, the agreement is valid and may be enforced by either party to the agreement.” Winset v. Fine, 565 So.2d 794, 795 (Fla. 3d DCA 1990)
“Even though most financially able parents willingly assist their adult children in obtaining a higher education, any duty to do so is a moral rather than a legal one, absent either a finding of legal dependence or a binding contractual agreement by the parent to pay such support.” Riera v. Riera, 86 So. 3d 1163 – Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 3rd Dist. 2012
Child Support in Florida Past Age 18 If The Child Is Disabled
“Historically in Florida the crucial question utilized by courts in determining whether child support is subject to termination deals with the dependency of the child, regardless of whether the child is a minor, emancipated, or an adult.” Doerrfeld v. Konz, 524 So. 2d 1115 – Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 2nd Dist. 1988
“Both the common law and statutory law impose upon a parent a duty of support for an adult dependent child who, because of mental or physical incapacity beginning prior to the child reaching majority, is unable to support herself.” Brown v. Brown, 714 So. 2d 475 – Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 5th Dist. 1998
Child support can continue “for a dependent person beyond the age of 18 years when such dependency is because of a mental or physical incapacity which began prior to such person reaching majority or if the person is dependent in fact” Fla. Stat. Sec. 743.07(2)
A “dissolution court has jurisdiction to consider a petition to extend child support for a dependent child past [their] eighteenth birthday when the petition was filed before the child reached majority.” PHAGAN EX REL. LDP v. McDuffee, Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 5th Dist. 2020 (emphasis mine)
If the child’s disability becomes apparent (or only addressed) after the child’s 18th birthday, an independent petition for support must be filed.
When “the [parent] has fulfilled his child support obligation as adjudicated in the divorce decree, an independent action must be brought to adjudicate the father’s support obligation for an adult dependent child. The circuit court is the proper court for such adjudication. Such cause of action belongs not…to the [other parent] (by way of a modification action) but rather belongs to the dependent person, who may bring the action in accordance with Rule 1.210(b), Florida Rules of Civil Procedure. Indeed, the mother, as well as the father, is a potential defendant in the support action.” Brown v. Brown, 714 So. 2d 475 – Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 5th Dist. 1998
Child Support Arrearages After A Child Turns 18
When a child turns 18, any child support owed for the years past…are still owed.
“Upon emancipation of a minor child, the support-dependent parent is not magically reimbursed for personal funds spent nor debts incurred due to nonpayment of child support. Hardships suffered by a family do not disappear. A family’s feelings of indignation from abandonment by the nonpaying parent or from past reliance on public assistance are not forgotten. Society’s interest in ensuring that a parent meets parental obligations must not be overlooked simply because the child has attained the age of majority. The support obligation does not cease; rather it remains unfulfilled. The nonpaying parent still owes the money…a judgment for support arrearages is enforceable by contempt proceedings after a child has reached the age of majority… emancipation does not extinguish a support-obligated parent’s responsibility to pay the past due support.” Gibson v. Bennett, 561 So. 2d 565 – Fla: Supreme Court 1990
While supporting a child probably never ends, child support definitely ends. If you would like to learn more about terminating child support at the right time, contact my Naples, Florida family law firm to speak with an experienced Florida divorce lawyer.