We frequently hear from parents when their kids turn 18 that they want to adjust their child support (if they are paying) or they want to make sure the child support isn't reduced (if they are receiving child support). You would think that there would be a simple way to modify child support because it happens every day, right? Nope. It is a long process and more complicated than it needs to be in my opinion.
The law in Massachusetts gives judges a lot of discretion in ordering child support after children turn 18. Child Support can even extend to age 23 in some circumstances in Massachusetts. But what happens when a child turns 18? How do you actually have the court adjust child support? Unless you agree with the other party on a change to child support (that is a separate topic), It all starts with a Complaint for Modification.
MGL c. 208, § 28 is the law that governs child support for children over age 18 in Massachusetts. It states, "The court may make appropriate orders of maintenance, support and education of any child who has attained age eighteen but who has not attained age twenty-one and who is domiciled in the home of a parent, and is principally dependent upon said parent for maintenance." (emphasis added)
There are a few important things to note in the statute:
- The Court MAY order support between ages 18 and 21. It is not mandatory and it is completely in the Court's discretion. In my experience, this is nearly always assumed that support will continue until age 21 unless there is a really compelling reason it should be stopped at age 18. Even if the child isn't in college and is just living with a parent after age 18.
- Domiciled in the home of a parent - this is interpreted very broadly and the child is considered domiciled with a parent if the child lives on campus for college and is only home with that parent on breaks. If they normally return home to the home of the parent receiving child support, that qualifies.
- Principally dependent - this means that the child relies on the parent to provide food and shelter. If the child works full-time, it would be hard to argue that they are "principally dependent" on the parent, but again, in my experience, the courts typically give the benefit of the doubt to the parent receiving child support.
How much does child support change when a child reaches age 18?
One important consideration is the actual dollar amount of the change in child support when a child turns 18. Based on the Child Support Guidelines, for one child, the amount of child support is reduced by 25% if you have one child when the child turns 18. If you have more than one child, the reduction in child support is only 5%. You should always calculate child support based on the guidelines before filing for a modification, whether you are seeking to increase or decrease child support. Sometimes there can be unintended consequences if either party's income has changed, the cost of health insurance has changed, or even if the guidelines calculation itself has changed. Don't just assume because a child turned 18 child support will be a lower amount.
Always remember - child support can't be changed unless there is a court order that says it can be changed! If you want to discuss a potential change to child support, please don't hesitate to contact us for a free consultation.