In Indiana, a child is considered emancipated at the age of 19 by operation of law. Therefore, emancipation eliminates a parent’s duty to pay child support for the child, and in most cases, a parent’s other support obligations to their children terminates at the age of 19. However, there are key exceptions to this rule that are covered in this blog.
“By Operation of Statute.” The first thing to know about emancipation is that, in most cases, it occurs “by operation of statute.” To expand, a child’s emancipation is governed by statutory code. Pursuant to the relevant statutory code section, a parent’s duty to support his or her child ends when the child reaches the age of 19, albeit, with some exceptions.1 The “by operation of law statute” means that, unless one of the exceptions listed in the statutory code is present, the child is considered emancipated at the age of 19, and the trial court has no discretion to rule otherwise. Thus, the takeaway is that, if you have a support obligation for a child that is, or will soon be 19, then “by operation of statute” your child is, or will be, emancipated- thereby ending your duty to support that child.
“Substantial Change” Justifying Modification of Support. The next thing to know about emancipation is that it is considered a “substantial change in circumstances” justifying a modification of child support. That is, pursuant to the statutes governing child support, there are only two (2) ways to modify a child support obligation; one of which requires showing a change in circumstances so substantial and continuing as to make the current support obligation unreasonable.2 Our Indiana Courts have consistently held that a child’s emancipation is a substantial and continuing change justifying a modification of a support obligation.3 As such, remember, if you have a child that has been emancipated, or will be emancipated in the near future, you have grounds for a modification of child support. Filing a request to have child support stop an income withholding order is prudent.
Date of Emancipation or Date Petition Filed. While a child’s emancipation may occur “by operation of statute,” this does not mean that your child support will automatically terminate or cease to be ordered. Instead, you will have to file for a modification of child support (which terminates it), and indicate that an emancipation has occurred. However, depending on whether an individual is paying child support for multiple children, or just one child, will determine the date on which the child support obligation can be retroactively modified. To expand, if you have multiple children, and one is emancipated, or soon to be, the date on which you file your petition for modification of support will be the date that the trial court can retroactively modify your support back to. However, if you only have one child and that child is, or will be, emancipated, the date of emancipation – not the date of filing the petition – will be the date that support can be retroactively modified to.
Post-Secondary Expenses. In today’s society, courts routinely order parents to share in the cost of a child’s college expenses. As such, you are probably wondering how emancipation affects a court’s award of college expenses. The simple answer, it doesn’t. The relevant statutory code section provides that a parent’s duty to support a child ends when the child turns 19, but explicitly excludes support for educational needs, such as college expenses.4 Thus, if a court has ordered parties responsible for college expenses prior to the emancipation, then a child’s emancipation will have no affect on the parties duty to contribute to the college expenses. However, what is important is that if a court has not ordered college expenses, then you must seek same prior to the emancipation by operation of law. The main takeaway to remember is that, while emancipation won’t affect a parent’s duty to contribute to college expenses if it has been previously ordered, emancipation will prevent a parent from seeking contribution after emancipation occurs. Thus, if you want to seek college expenses, make sure to file before your child is emancipated.
In conclusion, it is important to note that child support modifications and emancipations are extremely fact sensitive. The information contained in this blog is general in nature, and it is important to remember that there are many exceptions and circumstances that could lead to a different result than discussed above. If you are in a child support modification matter, it may be helpful to seek the assistance of an attorney to help navigate through the process. Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. attorneys handle the full spectrum of family law matters throughout Indiana, including child support matters. This blog post is written by Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. advocates and is not intended as specific legal advice or a solicitation for services. It is an advertisement.