Through the use of child support orders, Minnesota seeks to ensure that children of parents who are divorced, separated or were never married, are provided for financially. So how long is a parent obligated to provide financial support for their children?
The General Standard
If you have a child support order in Minnesota, you will be responsible for payment of child support until the child emancipates and is no longer deemed a child as defined by Minnesota Statute. Minnesota statute defines “child” in three ways:
1. an “individual under 18 years of age;
2. an individual under age 20 who is still attending secondary school; or
3. an individual who, by reason of physical or mental condition, is incapable of self-support.”1
Definitions 1 – an “individual under 18 years of age” is self-explanatory. If your child is under the age of 18, there remains an obligation to pay child support. Definition 2 – an “individual under age 20 who is still attending secondary school”, contemplates a scenario where the child has turned 18 years of age and is legally an adult, but is still attending high school and continues to need financial support until they graduate. In this scenario, child support will terminate when the child graduates. Before you worry about what happens if your child never graduates, rest assured that Definition 2 caps a parent’s obligation to pay support by terminating it when the child turns 20 years of age, regardless of whether the child is still attending high school and not yet graduated.
Upon emancipation under Definitions 1 and 2, a child support obligation terminates automatically without any action required by the person paying child support.2
Extending a Child Support Obligation into the Child’s Adulthood
Definition 2 isn’t the only scenario under which a parent may be required to pay child support after their child reached age 18. Definition 3 – an “individual who, by reason of physical or mental condition, is incapable of self-support” provides for a more liberal and inclusive definition of “child”, and contemplates a scenario where the child has turned 18 years of age, and regardless of whether they are attending or have graduated from high school, has been determined to have physical or mental disabilities that prevents them from being able to provide for themselves financially. The Court of Appeals has held that where an adult child requires constant care and assistance in handling their most basic needs due to a mental or physical disability, it is proper to deem the adult child a “child” for support purposes. In reaching that conclusion the court reasoned that where an adult child would remain dependent on others, “the primary obligation for the support of a child should fall on parents rather than the public.”3
Because child support will automatically terminate upon the child reaching the age of 18 or upon graduating high school (but not past age 20), in order for a parent to receive child support for an adult child under Definition 3, they must make a request for continued support by filing a motion with the court. Requests will be analyzed on their unique facts to determine the presence/extent of the child’s disability, and whether it renders child support necessary or terminable.
The existence of a stipulation within a divorce or child custody order which establishes an obligation to provide financial support beyond the age of emancipation may also extend a child support obligation into a child’s adulthood. For example, it is not uncommon for parents to agree to provide financial support for their child’s college expenses, or to continue to provide healthcare coverage for the child while they are in college. Although there is no obligation for parents to do so under Minnesota law, the court will likely enforce the stipulation and require the parent to provide the financial support they had agreed to.4 If you have made this type of agreement or are planning to do so, it is important to set forth specific limitations and terms intended.
Child support is an important and sometimes perplexing issue in many divorce and/or custody cases. To best understand your rights and responsibilities, please contact SJS Family Law to scheduling a consultation. We can be reached through an online contact form or by calling 612-568-5967.
3. Swanson v. Swanson, 372 N.W.2d 420, 423 (Minn. Ct. App. 1985)
4. In re Tr. between La Belle & La Belle, 302 Minn. 98, 100, 223 N.W.2d 400, 402 (1974)