Does a parent's child support obligation end when a child tosses up the hat at graduation? In most states, the answer is usually "yes." Generally, a child support order ends when a child graduates or turns 18.
Of course, "usually" is a far cry from "always."
In some situations, a child support obligation doesn't end the moment the child graduates from high school. This is especially true if the high school graduate is headed to college and/or has younger siblings.
Support Modification Upon Graduation
If a high school graduate has younger siblings, then a child support order doesn't terminate. Instead, a parent will need to seek a modification of the child support obligation.
It's common for child support orders to set a lump sum for all the children combined. This is one of the many reasons why you can't decide on your own to pay less for support once one child graduates or becomes an adult. You have to keep paying until the order is changed by a judge, unless your support order says you can reduce your support.
In that vein, a parent also shouldn't assume that a child support obligation will be reduced just because the eldest kid is graduating from high school. To the contrary, if the parent's income has gone up, then the parent's obligation for the remaining kids could be more than the previous obligation that included the child who graduated.
Extending the Support Order
The child support obligation could also continue if the ex-spouse goes back to court and successfully requests the judge to extend the support order. A judge may grant the request if the child is mentally or physically disabled, or if the child needs help with medical or educational expenses.
Educational expenses can include costs related to college, vocational school, or even completing high school at an adult age.
A judge will look at a host of factors, including your income and expenses, to make a modification decision. If you have questions about a child support modification action, you might want to talk to an experienced family law attorney near you.