Imagine that you have just finished litigating a highly contentious child support issue that has ended with the court ordering you to pay child support. The next question is, how long will the obligation last?
In Colorado, generally the answer is that the child support obligation continues until the child reaches the age of emancipation. Emancipation is the age at which an individual’s status in society changes from child to adult. The notion that child support should cease when the child becomes an adult is rooted in the idea that adults should be required to achieve their own financial independence.
The next question is, “when does a child become emancipated”? Of course, the most common way that one becomes emancipated is by attaining the age of majority. The age of majority is currently 19 in Colorado.
There are certain exceptions to termination of a child support obligation at the age of 19, however. First, if the parties have agreed otherwise in a written stipulation after July 1, 1991 (the date the Colorado Legislature changed the age of majority for child support purposes from 21 to 19). Second, sometimes a child reaches the age of majority while still in high school. Clearly most high school age persons are still in the care of at least one of their parents and are generally incapable of providing for themselves financially. To address this concern, a specific provision of the statutes requires that if the child is still in high school or an equivalent educational program, child support will continue until the end of the month following the child’s graduation. If the child quits high school, but then re-enrolls, child support will continue until graduation, but not if the child reaches age 21. Finally, if the child is mentally or physically disabled, and that disability continues beyond the age of 19, the child support obligation will continue for the duration of the disability.
Just as child support may continue until beyond age 19, it is possible for child support to terminate prior to that. This is because a child may be emancipated prior to age 19 if the child marries, joins the armed forces, or is employed and not living with one of his parents. While these are clear examples, there are some circumstances in which good faith arguments may be made on both sides of the issue of whether or not the child is “emancipated.” For example, if a “child” is away at college at employed, the “child” may be deemed not emancipated if his or her employment is intended to defray educational expenses. Establishing critical facts like those are things that good family law attorneys specialize in.
Finally, there is an old saying that goes “nothing is certain but death and taxes.” Well, as it turns out, child support obligations are more certain than death. This is because, in Colorado, the death of the obligor does not terminate the obligation. For this purpose, Courts can order the obligor to take a life insurance policy in order to ensure that the child support obligation will continue after the obligor can no longer ensure that payments.
The bottom line is that Colorado takes your child support obligation very seriously. You have to pay it, or pay the piper.