When Does Child Support End in South Carolina?

In general, child support in South Carolina ends when the child turns 18, graduates from high school, or is otherwise emancipated. But it is not always this simple. For example, if the child is still in high school when they are 18, the support obligation will continue until the child graduates or turns 19. The support obligation may also be extended based on the specific terms and conditions of the divorce decree, and you may have to file a motion with the court to terminate your support obligation.

When Does Child Support End Before Age 18 in SC?

Under most circumstances, a child in South Carolina is not considered to be an adult until they reach the “age of majority”, which is 18 years old. This is the age in which a child is no longer a minor, and they are able to make certain legal decisions on their own. That said, there are some instances in which a child may be emancipated before turning 18. In such cases, child support would no longer be required.

Some ways a child can become emancipated before the age of 18 include:

  • Getting Married: In South Carolina, an individual can get married at the age of 16 if they have the permission of at least one parent or guardian.
  • Joining the Military: Individuals can join the military on their own when they turn 18, but they can also join at age 17 with parental consent.
  • Moving Out: Some children under the age of 18 move out of their parent’s home and provide for themselves economically.

Essentially, a child is emancipated when his/her parents no longer need to provide them with food, clothing, shelter, education, and healthcare. When this happens before a child turns 18, the obligation to pay child support may end, although the supporting parent may need to file a termination action with the court, depending on how their support is paid.

When can Child Support Be Extended Beyond Age 18?

On the other end of the spectrum, there are many cases when child support does not end when the child reaches the age of majority. We have already discussed the scenario in which a child does not graduate until they turn 19.

Here are some other instances in which the obligation to pay child support may continue past age 18:

  • The Child is Going to College: There may be an agreement in the divorce decree to continue child support payments beyond age 18, as long as the child is enrolled in a college, trade school, or another type of postsecondary education. On a related note, South Carolina courts have the power to require parents to contribute to a child’s college tuition and other higher education expenses under certain circumstances.
  • The Child Has a Disability: Courts often extend the obligation of a parent to pay child support past the age of majority when a child is disabled or has special needs.

Look very carefully at your divorce decree to find out if you can expect to pay or receive child support after your child turns 18. If one of these scenarios applies, it still needs to be specified in the decree. Otherwise, the obligation of the paying parent will end unless the receiving parent or the supported child petitions the court for a child support modification.

It is important to note that if you owe back child support, you should not expect it to be forgiven or forgotten when your child turns 18. Even if you are no longer required to pay any support going forward, you will still owe the receiving parent whatever unpaid amount was accumulated prior to the child reaching the age of majority.

When do You Need to Petition the Court to End Child Support in SC?

If child support is paid directly from one parent to the other, then the paying parent can stop making payment when their obligation ends. If this situation applies to you, be careful not to stop paying too soon. Also be cognizant that if you are supporting other minor children, you will still owe an obligation for them.  Whatever the divorce decree says is equivalent to a court order, and it must be followed if you do not want to wind up in legal trouble.

If you pay child support through the court or clerk’s office, you may need to petition the court to terminate your obligation to pay. If the emancipated child is your only child or your youngest child, many clerk’s offices will allow you to show their birth certificate and high school diploma to prove the child is emancipated and your child support account should be closed.  However, if you still have other minor children you are supporting even after your support for the emancipated child should end, you will have to file an action with the Court to reduce your child support based on that fact.  It’s not as easy as simply cutting your payments in half or dividing by some other percentage.  If you do that without a modification action, the clerk’s office will reflect a child support arrearage on your account.  

If your child support was initially set by DSS, they will allow a review of your obligation every 3 years.  If the end of that period coincides with the year of emancipation for one of your children, you can contact them to review your account and make the necessary adjustments to your support obligation. 

The court does not have the resources to keep track of when child support obligations expire, and it is up to you to bring this to their attention. This is particularly important if a portion of your paycheck is being withheld to pay support. Otherwise, they will continue to deduct this amount from your wages until you take action to stop it.

Child Support for College-Aged Students

Child support typically ends for a child when he or she turns 18 or graduates from high school. Parents may choose to come to their own agreement about helping their son or daughter with college expenses, but if they don’t, under certain circumstances either parent may petition the court for contribution to post-secondary educational expenses.

The factors the family court may consider in such a petition are whether 1) the characteristics of the child indicated he/she would benefit from college, 2) the child has demonstrated the ability to at least make satisfactory grades, 3) the child could not otherwise go to school, and 4) the other parent has the financial ability to help pay for such an education. In determining whether the child could otherwise go to school, the Court will look at the availability of grants and loans for the child, as well as the child’s ability to earn an income during the school year or on vacation.  These latter factors are necessary considerations given that the Court views the child as having a duty to help minimize his or her college expenses before seeking a parent’s financial assistance through court.  Hughes v. Hughes, 280 S.C. 388, 390-391 (Ct. App. 1984).

Child Support for Disabled Adult Children

Under S.C. Code Ann. §63-3-530(17), the court retains the discretion to continue child support past age 18 for those children with a significant physical or mental handicap. It can also order prolonged payment of child support in other exceptional circumstances. South Carolina differs from some states that place an age limit of 21 on child support payments for disabled young adults. South Carolina courts can order payment for as long as the physical disability, mental disability, or exceptional circumstance continues. This is particularly true if the State deems that it is in the best interest of the young adult to remain in his or her home environment.

Need Help with Child Support in South Carolina? Contact the Cate Law Firm for Assistance

Child support obligations usually end when a child turns 18, but this is not always true. If you are not sure about when child support ends in your case or you need to petition the court for a modification, it is best to work with an experienced family law attorney. There is a lot at stake in these types of cases, and a skilled and knowledgeable attorney can help ensure that your interests and the best interests of your child are protected.

At the Cate Law Firm, we have several decades of experience helping clients in South Carolina with child support and all other types of family legal matters. We practice family law exclusively, and we have in-depth knowledge of the legal process and what is necessary to secure favorable outcomes for our clients.

To schedule a consultation with an attorney, call us today at 864-251-5855. You may also message us online or stop by our Spartanburg office in person at your convenience.

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Cate & Brough, P.A.

At Cate & Brough, we all have personal experience with family law and family court. We know more than just what the law says about your issue – we know what you are going through.

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