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When Does My Child Support Obligation End in the State of Georgia?

Most child support orders specify that child support shall continue until the age of 18, unless the child has not graduated from high school; in that case it would continue until the child graduates but not past the child’s 20th birthday.  Simple enough, right?  Not really.  The State of Georgia has a very specific statutory provision as to how long child support can go and what conditions must be met, making the above language not necessarily legal.

Historically, courts in the State of Georgia did not have the power to order child support to be paid beyond the child’s 18th birthday (unless the parties mutually agreed otherwise).

The current statutory provision is O.C.GA 19-6-15 (e) and the specific language is as follows (emphasis ours):

Duration of child support responsibility. The duty to provide support for a minor child shall continue until the child reaches the age of majority, dies, marries, or becomes emancipated, whichever first occurs; provided, however, that, in any temporary, final, or modified order for child support with respect to any proceeding for divorce, separate maintenance, legitimacy, or paternity entered on or after July 1, 1992, the court, in the exercise of sound discretion, may direct either or both parents to provide financial assistance to a child who has not previously married or become emancipated, who is enrolled in and attending a secondary school, and who has attained the age of majority before completing his or her secondary school education, provided that such financial assistance shall not be required after a child attains 20 years of age. The provisions for child support provided in this subsection may be enforced by either parent, by any nonparent custodian, by a guardian appointed to receive child support for the child for whose benefit the child support is ordered, or by the child for whose benefit the child support is ordered.”

The key part of the language here is that child support can only continue as long as the child is both enrolled in school AND is attending school.  Once this condition is not met, the obligation of child support is ended.

For example: a child is not graduated from high school, is over the age of 18, and less than age 20, but has been arrested and is not attending school while in drug rehabilitation.  Under the law, child support obligation ceases.  The court only has the power to award child support based upon the above statutory provision, and any other award of child support is unlawful and beyond its power.

Parties can voluntarily agree to do things.  For example, you could voluntarily agree to bind yourself to pay for a child’s college education.  As a rule, our advice would be to avoid making this provision, unless you get something in return. You can always voluntarily pay for college; we don’t generally recommend giving the court power over you that it would not otherwise have.

In a recent case, the provision read as follows:

“{Child support is to continue} until the children become 18 years old, become self supporting or finish high school, although if either child shall not finish high school after the age of 18, child support shall continue until he or she graduates, but in no event beyond the age of 20.”

This was unacceptable to our client because it is unlawful:

  • The provision does not state that the child must be enrolled and attending high school, as mandated by the statute.
  • As it is written, it would allow a high-school dropout to continue receiving child support until the age of 20, because they would not have graduated.

We take great care in the review of child support provisions in settlement agreements for the individuals we represent. Be sure you choose an attorney who will protect your interests during a difficult process.

Scott Shaw is founder and principle of Shaw Law Firm PC, founded in 1995 and dedicated solely to divorce, family law and child custody matters that must be addressed and decided in the state of Georgia. Shaw Law Firm has offices in Dunwoody/Sandy Springs and serves the greater Metro Atlanta area, particularly the counties of Fulton, DeKalb, Gwinnett, Cobb, Cherokee, Forsyth, Paulding, Henry, Fayette, Coweta, Newton, Walton, Bartow and Douglas. Schedule a consultation today at 770-594-8309 or contact us.