We’re often asked about how long child support payments must be made. Pursuant to Minn. Stat. Sec. 518A.39, Subdvision 5, a “child support obligation in a specific amount per child terminates automatically and without any action by the obligor to reduce, modify, or terminate the order upon the emancipation of the child.”

The answer, accordingly, is “until a child emancipates.” But what, exactly, is “emancipation?”

The emancipation of a child occurs in a number of ways.

The most typical form of emancipation involves a child graduating from high school, or reaching 18 years of age, whichever is later. In other words, if your high school graduate doesn’t turn 18 until August of the year they graduate, support payments will continue beyond high school for a few months. Well over 99% of the child support cases involve this type of standard.

There are situations in which a child qualifies for support until age 20 – usually when a minor has a disability of some sort. Support payments, however, need not continue beyond age 20, regardless of the circumstances.

Further, a minor can emancipate by agreement of the parties. If the facts and circumstances justify, the Court may approve an agreement to terminate child support prior to age 18, or high school graduation. The critical issue in such a situation involves whether parents have relinquished control and authority over a child’s upbringing. You should know that it is extremely rare for a judge to terminate support payments – even if agreement on this issue has been reached.

Emancipation may also take place if a child moves from a parent’s residence, and assumes responsibility for themselves. The child, in that circumstance, gives up the right to financial support by a parent.

There is no formal court process for determining whether a child is emancipated under the law. The concept of emancipation applies in a number of situations, including juvenile court and family court.

In the family court area, the simplest way to seek a finding that a child has emancipated involves filing a motion with the Court. Once you have presented all of the relevant information to the judge, s/he will be in position to determine whether, in fact, your child is self-supporting.