What happens to child support when a child emancipates?

A “child” under the Minnesota child support statutes means an individual under 18 years of age, an individual under age 20 who is still attending secondary school, or an individual who, by reason of physical or mental condition, is incapable of self-support. Generally, when a child turns 18, and is no longer in high school, child support will end automatically if child support is ordered in a specific amount per child. Minnesota Statute 518A.39, Subd 5 provides:

“Unless a court order provides otherwise, a child support obligation in a specific amount per child terminates automatically and without any action by the obligor to reduce, modify, or terminate the order upon the emancipation of the child as provided under section 518A.26, subdivision 5.”

Therefore, if there is only one child and that child emancipates, the court ordered child support obligation will generally end, unless the court order specifies otherwise. Even if there are two or more children, and child support is ordered in a specific amount per child, the amount of child support for that child will end automatically when that child emancipates. However, Minnesota Statute 518A.39, Subd. 5(b) provides:

“A child support obligation for two or more children that is not a support obligation in a specific amount per child continues in the full amount until the emancipation of the last child for whose benefit the order was made, or until further order of the court.”

Therefore, when a child emancipates and the court order does not specify the amount of support for each child separately, it may be necessary to file a motion to modify support. In addition, a child support modification can only be retroactive to the date a pending motion was served, not the date the child was emancipated (Minnesota Statute 518A.39, Subd. 5(e)). Therefore, it may not pay to wait to file a motion.

There are reasons, even when a child emancipates, that you may not want to request a modification of child support. On a motion to reduce support based on emancipation of the child, the court considers the current income of both parties to recalculate support. Therefore, it is possible, if an obligor’s income has increased significantly since the prior court order, for the current guideline child support to increase rather than decrease. Second, considering the cost of filing a motion with the court, it may make sense to wait to file a motion until a second child emancipates, if they are close in age to the oldest child.