Child support in New York is governed by a section of Domestic Relations Law commonly referred to as the “Child Support Standards Act” or “CSSA” for short. The CSSA not only determines how much child support a parent has to pay, but for how long. Pursuant to the CSSA, child support ends upon a child turning 21. Although many states have child support terminating by law at age 18, that is not the case in New York.
There are circumstances in which child support can end earlier or later than a child turning age 21. If the parties agree in their stipulation of settlement, child support can end later than a child turning age 21. Often, parents agree to extend child support until age 22 if the child is attending college. This is based on the fact that, most commonly, a child attending a 4-year degree program on a full-time basis will finish college at age 22. Agreeing to extend child support until age 22 when a child is finished with college assists the custodial parent in financially affording the child’s “home” residence, even if the child is away at college. But if the parties do not agree to this, a court is limited by the CSSA and cannot order a parent to pay child support until age 22, even if the child is in college.
Child support can end earlier than age 21 if a child is deemed to be “emancipated” (all children under age 21 are presumed to be “unemancipated” for purposes of child support, even if they are over the age of 18). The definition of when a child is “emancipated” is often set forth in parties’ settlement agreements. For example, parents can agree that their child will be deemed “emancipated” earlier than age 21 if the child is married, if the child enters into the armed forces, or if the child is living away from either parent, working full-time and is self-supporting.
Even if parents do not have an agreement setting forth what age child support will end before age 21, it is possible in very limited circumstances for a court to terminate child support before age 21. This limited circumstance occurs if a parent is able to prove to the court that a child of at least teenage years steadfastly refuses to visit with a parent or have any contact with the parent and that the child’s refusal was not caused by the parent. Although courts have resorted to this drastic remedy in rare cases, in general it is very difficult for a parent to end his or her child support obligation for a child who is under age 21. Generally, the overriding public policy in New York is that a child under 21 is entitled to financial support.