Charleston Family Court lawyers are frequently asked about the possibility of extending child support obligations beyond the age of emancipation, which, in South Carolina, is 18 or upon graduation from high school, whichever is latest, but never past age 19.
Frequently, the context of this question concerns the payment of college-related expenses, which is actually a separate issue altogether from the issue of child support. A supporting parent can indeed be ordered to contribute to college expenses for a child (as of today — our Courts have gone back and forth on this issue in recent years, see Risinger v. Risinger, Webb v. Sowell, and McLeod v. Starnes for a history), and if you wish to pursue payment of such expenses, you should contact one of our Charleston Family Court lawyers to discuss further.
As for the payment of actual child support, that is, the direct payment of money from one parent to another for contribution to child-related expenses, beyond emancipation, one must look to S.C. Code Ann. § 63-3-530 (A)(17), which gives the Family Courts jurisdiction to :
“Make all orders for support run until further order of the court, except that orders for child support run until the child turns eighteen years of age or until the child is married or becomes self-supporting, as determined by the court, whichever occurs first, or past the age of eighteen years if the child is enrolled and still attending high school, not to exceed high school graduation or the end of the school year after the child reaches nineteen years of age, whichever is later; or in accordance with a preexisting agreement or order to provide for child support past the age of eighteen years; or in the discretion of the court, to provide for child support past age eighteen when there are physical or mental disabilities of the child or other exceptional circumstances that warrant the continuation of child support beyond age eighteen for as long as the physical or mental disabilities or exceptional circumstances continue. When child support is terminated due to the child turning eighteen years of age, graduating from high school, or reaching the end of the school year when the child is nineteen, no arrearage may be incurred as to that child after the date of the child’s eighteenth birthday, the date of the child’s graduation from high school, or the last day of the school year when the child is nineteen, whichever date terminated the child support obligation” (italics added).
The italicized portion regarding physical and mental disabilities is the main cause for a Family Court to extend child support beyond the age of emancipation. There are some situations in which the Court will obviously apply this statute to extend support: children who are born with disabilities that will forever prevent them from becoming self-supporting, children who are injured later in life in such a manner that will keep them from becoming self-supporting, etc. If you are a custodial parent of a child with long-term disabilities, or Charleston Family Court lawyers should be able to establish a long-term child support obligation for you, hopefully without a great deal of controversy.
As with all Family Court issues, however, there are always shades of gray and extenuating circumstances that may make continuing support past emancipation more difficult. What if a child becomes disabled as a result of a genetic disorder after emancipation? There is some case law in our state that would suggest the custodial parent could again begin collecting support as a result, but it is likely each case would turn on its own facts. Our firm recently favorably settled a child support case involving a young man who suffered from schizophrenia, which had been developing (as schizophrenia often does) well before emancipation but became full-blown in his early 20s. That case was only resolved after extensive litigation, and the outcome at trial would have been difficult to predict.
What if a child becomes dependent again after becoming emancipated? Our Courts have ruled that the Family Court may order the resumption of support payments for a young man who became totally disabled as a result of a catastrophic car accident shortly after he turned eighteen and graduated high school. Less clear in our cases would be if the “child” had been emancipated for a longer period and was, say, 25 years old when he became totally disabled.
In conclusion, whatever the exact circumstances with which you are currently faced, please contact one of our Charleston Family Court lawyers if you believe you need assistance with obtaining child support for your child beyond the age of emancipation.