Child Support Duty to 18-Year-Old Not Graduated from High School
January 24, 2018
It’s a common misconception that Child Support ends at age 18. In the State of Maryland, the legislature revised the existing law to reflect the reality that many 18-year-old children are still in high school. Fourth quarter birthday children may not even be permitted to enter kindergarten if they will turn 5 in October, November and December. That means at least 25% of all children will be age 18 in high school for at least 6 months before graduation. Hence in 2002, the Maryland law changed to Child Support terminating at age 18 and graduated from high school, not longer than age 19.
Given the increasing popularity of the pre-school “gap” year (i.e. pre-first, or two years of kindergarten) even for children born in the latter half of the year, this just makes sense. Certainly no parent in a non-divorced family would balk at supporting his or her high school senior. In fact, this is a notoriously expensive time period in a child’s life. Expenses like SAT preparation courses, AP exam fees, class rings, drivers’ education, automobile insurance, prom, after-prom, graduation costs, college application fees and college campus visits can be financially overwhelming. Losing Child Support to cover the basics would be financially devastating. In the child-centered forum of mediation, many thoughtful parents of college-bound children even agree to extend Child Support through the summer following high school to reflect reality.
Since the law changed in 2002, until 2021 there may be some old Child Support orders that lag behind the change. Thankfully, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals decided that reality mattered. Even these old Child Support orders can be extended to protect those children who turn 18 before they graduate from high school, said the Court in Bornemann v Bornnemann 175 Md. App. 716, 724 (2007). It said “Child support payments vest on the due date of each payment. Rights concerning future child support liabilities, including termination of support, therefore, do not vest until the due date, and are subject to the continuing jurisdiction of the courts.”
The legislature has worked very hard to limit the disputes a divorcing couple or never married co-parents can have over the children. There is a recognition that disputes of co-parents in and of themselves, are harmful to children as well as to family finances. The Bornemann Court noted that “The 2002 amendments…are effectively a self-executing material change of circumstances.” This kind of pro-Child decision is intended to stop families from spending money on legal fees when the outcome is obvious. Where the outcome is more certain, a party fighting against futility may find it difficult to get a reputable family law attorney to represent him or her on this cause, and if they do or they represent themselves to do so, they may find themselves paying the attorneys’ fees of their co-parent for asserting such a specious defense.
The practical effect of the changes in the law is two-fold. The party seeking the extension must file an action to modify the pre-2002 Child Support order of the Court. With time running out on these old cases, it should be filed, because the Court only has the authority to order retroactive Child Support to the date of filing for the change. So that is step 1- protect the retroactive Child Support. Step 2: settle the case. If there is no defense why not settle? The enactment of the Maryland Child Support Guidelines leaves little room for most families to argue. That was the point of the laws drafted to protect the well-being of a child of divorce. Mediation is an ideal place to settle many matters, but where the issue is very limited, and affect children, seeking out mediation as a cost-effective settlement process is practical choice.
Seeking to extend the currently ordered sum of Child Support is simpler than seeking the extension of Child Support until high school graduation at a higher monthly Child Support figure. This is because the Child Support recipient must now prove an additional “material change of circumstances”, namely that the financial circumstances have changed requiring a review of income and child expenses information. However if the Child Support order is from before 2002, it is quite likely that financial circumstances have in fact, changed. Therefore, using mediation to voluntarily exchange financial information and to run the Maryland Child Support Guidelines based on agreed data is a short-cut to settlement.
The co-parent-friendly forum of mediation may even allow parents who have not really spoken to each other about their children in a long time to discuss the big “extras” of upper level high school, like college plans. It is not unusual for two-home co-parents to have forgotten to have these talks, since discussions that cost more money are always difficult, and are easy to avoid when you don’t see each other for a long time. Especially where money is scarce, mediation may provide the forum to demonstrate to your co-parent why you can’t afford automobile insurance, or why you feel that a local college is best for your child. Hard discussions are hard to have and mediation is the place to have them.
In sum, where there is no logic in resisting the change of the law, conserve your resources and don’t take illogical legal positions. Conserve your resources and don’t hire attorneys to defend positions that are indefensible in court. Remember that disputes about children, including child support, have a direct impact on children. When a child reaches high school, he or she is becoming aware of the financial situation around them. The parties could use the mediation setting to help the parties agree to the payor’s direct payments of high school age children expenses, so that the payor gets some additional pleasure or benefit for making such payments for the necessary extras like prom. Families generate memories that last a lifetime. Will the memory be about the purchase of the prom gown or new car or will it be of the extreme unrelenting anger of his or her parents over a simple calculation like Child Support? Bend, don’t break. Mediate through the difficulties of two-home co-parenting. Your children would thank you if they understood the positive choice you both have made.