The Virginia Code says that child support stops when the child turns 18. If they are still in high school on their 18th birthday, then support continues until they graduate or turn 19, whichever happens first. Lawyers sometimes call this “emancipation.”
If there is only one child and you don’t owe back support you can just stop paying when the time comes. If there are two or more children and the older one emancipates, however, you have to have the court order changed so that you are only paying for the remaining, unemancipated child. You cannot just pay half of what you have been paying.
Handshake deals with the other parent to reduce the amount are not enough. You have to get the court order changed. This is extremely important because there have been cases where people ended up owing tens of thousands in back support because they never got the order changed.
Child support in Virginia is based on a formula and you have to redo the guideline formula with current information about both parents’ incomes, any child care costs and the health insurance premiums being paid. If the child lives at least 91 days with both parents, then the amount of time spent with each parent is a factor as well.
If the parents have a good working relationship, updating the order can be easy. Either one can file a petition to have the order changed to fit the new situation. The parties can provide their income, child care and health insurance information to a lawyer. The lawyer then recomputes the guideline amount and prepares an order for the judge to sign that says what the new amount is to be. As long as both parties agree to that order, it can be sent in to the clerk’s office and the parents can avoid going to court. The court staff will give the new order to a judge to sign and the new amount will take effect. Just be sure to get a copy for your records.
If the parents don’t get along, then the court will hold a hearing. The parties can submit their proof of income, child care and insurance premium information and the judge will compute the guideline amount. Doing it this way means both parents will have to take off work for at least half a day.
One situation that can be a problem is when one parent receives income that is not reported. This can range from tips to payment for entire jobs the parent has done “under the table.” Proving this kind of earnings can be hard, even with the help of a lawyer. Since there are no pay stubs, you have to prove the income indirectly through things like bank statements showing deposits made or spending that would only be possible if the parent is making more than they admit.
One issue that comes up is paying for college or other education after high school. The Virginia Code does not give judges authority to order a parent to pay for a child to receive higher education. The one exception is where the parents have agreed to do it. Then the judge can order them to do what their agreement says.
My standard advice is to never agree to do something the court could not order on its own. I tell clients that paying for college should be between them and their child, not between the parents. A parent who is under a court order to pay these expenses has no leverage if the child is partying and not taking their studies seriously. So it is better to keep this kind of support completely voluntary.
There is one situation where child support continues indefinitely. If a child is “severely and permanently disabled” when they emancipate, then support can be required until either the parent or the child dies. These situations are rare but they do come up and it is a good idea to talk them through with a lawyer and be sure you understand the rules.