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Indiana Lowers The Age of Emancipation: Some Will Like It, Some Will Not

by Dawn E. Wellman          May, 2012

On July 1, 2012, a significant change to Indiana's child support laws will become effective: the age of emancipation for a child (the age at which parental responsibility for payment of child support ends) will be lowered from twenty-one to nineteen years of age. This change has been discussed for a couple years, with the General Assembly finally voting to this year to amend the statute pertaining to emancipation. While child support will terminate at age nineteen, education support orders for college costs will continue to be available (by petition filed with the court) until the child is twenty-one.

The new law provides that a parent's duty to support a child "ceases when the child becomes nineteen (19) years of age", unless the child was previously emancipated or the child is incapacitated (mental or physically disabled). The duty to support an incapacitated child will continue for as long as the child remains incapacitated or until the court otherwise issues an order terminating support.

The new law also contains a transition point for college support orders based upon the effective date of the new law. If a child is receiving child support under a court order that was issued before July 1, 2012, the child may file a petition for parental contribution towards educational costs at any time before the child reaches the age of twenty-one years. However, if the child support order is issued after June 30, 2012, the child must file a petition for payment of educational costs before the child reaches the age of nineteen. Thus, under the new law, some children (depending when their birthday falls), may need to file the request for payment of educational costs before they graduate from high school.

Under the new law, it is possible for a child to be emancipated before reaching the age of nineteen if the following conditions are met: (1) the child is at least eighteen years of age; (2) the child has not attended a secondary school or post-secondary educational institution for the prior four months and is not enrolled in a secondary school or post-secondary educational institution; and (3) the child is supporting himself or herself financially through employment or is capable of doing so. However, if the Court finds that these conditions are met but the child is only partially supporting or is capable of only partially supporting himself or herself, the Court may order that support be modified instead of terminated.

Finally, a Court is required to declare a child emancipated and to terminate support if a Court finds that a child: (1) is on active duty in the United States armed services, (2) has married, or (3) is not under the care or control of (a) either parent or (b) an individual or agency approved by the Court.

The Legislature did not give people much notice to plan for these changes. If a child is currently in college, is receiving child support and is over the age of nineteen, the obligation to pay that child support will cease on July 1, 2012. If a child is graduating from high school, the possibility of support is only available to the custodial parent for four months after the child graduates or until the child's nineteenth birthday.

If you have children that are close to high school graduation and you are still receiving support or paying support, it may be a good time to schedule an appointment with one of our family law attorneys to determine how and when the support obligation will terminate. Also, if your child plans to attend college, the window of opportunity for that child to obtain court-ordered parental contribution to those costs will now be narrower and your planning for your children should take this factor into account.

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