Child Support

Both parents must provide for, or support, their children whether married or divorced. However, when a divorce occurs, the court determines the nature, amount and duration of the support so that one parent is not left with the entire burden. Child support has come to mean the payments one parent makes to the parent who has primary custody of the children.

Amounts and Guidelines

Courts, and parents, are guided in the amount of support payments required by state law child support guidelines. The amount is typically ordered in the form of a percentage of gross or net income. The guidelines also take into account the number of children being supported. However, the guidelines are just that – guidelines. Depending on the facts and evidence, the court may award more or less support. The guidelines differ among the states but the range is generally a minimum of 20 percent of income to support one child up to 50 percent where there are six or more children.

TIP: Parents sharing joint custody or joint managing conservatorship of children typically do not pay child support to each other where the child lives with them on an equal basis.

SIDEBAR: When both parents have income, the calculation of a monthly support amount is based on the total income. However, the parent earning more money still pays support; it is just reduced by the percentage of her husband’s income that contributed to calculating the monthly amount. For instance, if the monthly payment should be $1,000 based on both parent’s income combined, but the mother is earning 75 percent of the combined income, she pays $750 in child support.

Can I make one lump sum payment instead of paying monthly child support?

Yes. The court can order child support paid in almost any form, including lump sum payments, property held in trust, or the purchase of an annuity.

Will my ex-husband be ordered to pay child support if he is purposely unemployed?

Yes. Parents who purposely limit their earnings will not obtain a decreased child support obligation. The court has the authority to order a payment amount commensurate with the income the parent has the capacity to earn or has earned in the past. Your husband’s monthly obligation will not be decreased and if he fails to pay, his child support payments will quickly fall into arrears.

SIDEBAR: A finding of “underemployment” requires evidence that the parent is purposely not earning more in order to avoid child support increases. A parent is under no duty to earn more money just because she can – she has the right to continue her employment in her current capacity.

My ex-wife’s earnings are not large but she receives other forms of income. Do her other sources of income factor into the child support calculation?

Yes. The court uses income from all sources to calculate the net resources from which child support must be paid. For instance, royalty payments your wife receives are counted towards her net resources.

TIP: Earnings or income from employment can include amounts other than what is reflected on a paycheck. The court considers commissions, overtime pay, tips, bonuses, dividends, interest income, trust income, annuities, unemployment and disability income and retirement income.

I added $500 to my last child support check because I received a Christmas bonus. Am I entitled to a credit on the next check?

Under some laws, you may be allowed to decrease the next check by $500. You are not required to characterize the extra amount as a gift; it can be an advance payment on future monthly payments. Of course, you should notify your ex-spouse before you take the credit or at the time you make the advance payment.

We are deciding between which of three private schools our son will attend next year, so the exact amount of tuition is uncertain. Can the court order my ex-husband to pay 50% of the tuition as part of his child support obligation, rather than state a specific amount?

No. The amount of child support cannot be speculative. The child support order must contain specific amounts. You should estimate the tuition and have the court require payment of half that figure.

Is child support automatically increased for inflation or other probable increases in expenses?

No. If expenses change, the court must be presented with proof of the change, and the child support will be modified accordingly. The support cannot be based on an unpredictable future event, such as a statement that interest rates may go up and your mortgage is on an adjustable note.

Can I take a break from paying child support during the summer when the children are living with me?

No. Typically, child support is calculated on an annual basis, and payments are spread throughout the year. Your obligation has already been determined by the court, and the court took into consideration that you would have the children during the summer. The fact the children are living with you does not extinguish your obligation.

My ex-husband is filing bankruptcy. Does he still have to pay child support?

Yes. Your ex-husband’s obligation to pay child support cannot be discharged. He cannot be released from this debt in the same way that a credit card debt is discharged.

TIP: The ongoing bankruptcy may delay child support payments.

Does an ex-spouse who is in jail have to pay child support?

Yes; however, since the ex-spouse is not earning any money, there are typically no funds available to pay child support.

TIP: Some prison systems attempt to provide inmates with jobs so that some funds are available for child support payments. For information concerning families with a relative who is incarcerated, go to the Family and Corrections network at www.fcnetwork.org.

My ex-wife has put property in her parent’s name to avoid paying off child support arrears. Is there anything I can do?

Yes. Your ex-wife is making a fraudulent transfer or conveyance by placing property in someone else’s name to avoid her legal obligation. You should contact your local or state child support agency to determine how to pursue an action to set aside the fraudulent transfers.

I have no idea where my ex-husband is living. He owes for many months of child support and is probably not working. Is there anything I can do to enforce the child support order?

Other than contacting the local or state agency responsible for enforcing child support orders and giving them whatever information you have on your ex-husband, the order cannot currently be enforced. Since your ex-husband’s whereabouts are unknown, the child support order is, unfortunately, difficult to enforce.

TIP: Give the agency the names and addresses of all relatives with whom the person owing child support may be living, including current and past friends. It is difficult for a person to completely hide or disappear without the help of family or friends.

TIP: A person’s location can be tracked through Social Security information if that person is currently employed and not being paid in cash.

TIP: Additional information is available on the Office of Child Enforcement website at www.acf.dhhs.gov/programs/cse.

SIDEBAR: The U.S. Passport office will deny passports to persons owing child support amounts exceeding $5,000. Any person in the Passport Denial Program can no longer use their passport.

Increase or decrease in amount

Support is increased depending on the needs of the child, along with a parent’s ability to pay more than called for in the guidelines. Children involved in many activities, attending camps, driving, taking music lessons, etc., may require more support if it is in their best interests to maintain that lifestyle. If the parent can afford it, the child’s lifestyle should not be diminished because sufficient support is not ordered. Similarly, if the parent’s income has increased significantly since the support order was entered, the court may increase the support payments owed by that parent. However, the parent can argue that the children do not require excessive support.

On the other hand, a parent may not be able to pay an amount that covers his support obligation under the guidelines. The father, for instance, may have other children to support, be disabled, unemployed, or have debts or judgments against him.

Medical Support

The court can order either parent to provide and cover the costs of medical care and treatment for the child. Typically the non-custodial parent provides health insurance and medical care, along with a monthly support payment. Medical care is interpreted broadly, and can include tutoring, speech classes, or physical or occupational therapy. Dental and eye care are always part of the medical support provided to the child.

TIP: The parent who is providing health insurance must provide the other parent with all information relating to the policy, including the policy number, insurance and prescription cards, and notification of benefit changes.

Qualified Medical Child Support Order (“QMCSO”)

Along with the final divorce decree, a qualified medical child support order may be entered requiring a parent’s employer-sponsored health plans to cover children of the marriage. The child is the alternate recipient of the health care benefits under the QMCSO. More information can be found in the U.S. Department of Labor’s guide to QMCSOs at www.dol.gov/ebsa/publications/qmcso.html.

TIP: Plans that do not provide dependent health care coverage do not have to comply with the QMCSO.

Enforcement of Child Support Orders

Parents who routinely fail to pay child support have the amounts deducted from their wages under state and federal laws. All child support orders authorize a wage deduction from the paying parent’s job income. Additionally, tax refunds can be seized if child support is owed. Commonly, the non-paying parent is held in contempt of court and is fined or even jailed for failing to make child support payments. The parent who should be receiving child support payments (and is not) generally files a motion asking the court to enforce the child support payments.

SIDEBAR: Holding the non-paying spouse in contempt is a tricky remedy, because a person in jail obviously cannot earn income. Judges take this into consideration before placing a parent in jail.

TIP: Interest accrues on unpaid child support.

Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA)

The Uniform Interstate Family Support Act allows parents to more easily collect child support from parents who live in other states. The Act permits only one support order to be in effect for the child, which consequently allows for one controlling order (rather than several issued by the different states).

Significantly, the Act allows the state that issued the order to withhold income from the parent who is not paying, although he is employed in another state. “Direct income withholding” is accomplished by sending the child support order directly to the out-of-state employer who, under federal law, must comply with a “wage withholding order.”

TIP: Child support orders should be registered in the state where the paying parent lives.

Child support lien

Laws may allow the parent who is not receiving child support to obtain a lien on the non-paying parent’s property. A person with a lien can seize the property and sell it to satisfy an outstanding debt. Typically, personal property is seized by the sheriff and sold at auction. The proceeds go to pay off the child support arrears.

Responsibilities and Duties of Parents To Child

Once a person becomes a parent, he or she has certain legal duties to the child. Parents must provide children with food, shelter, clothing, healthcare and education. Parents have a duty to protect their children from abuse and neglect. If parents do not provide a safe environment for their children, they may be held criminally liable and the child can be removed from the home.

Must parents continue to support children after they become adults?

No. Once the child is no longer a minor, the parents’ legal obligations to the child are terminated.

Parents’ rights over child

Just as they have certain duties, mothers and fathers also have certain rights regarding their children. Parents have the right to determine how the child will be raised, where and how the child will be educated, what religion will be followed and the type of medical treatment the child can obtain. Under some laws, parents have the right to any income earned by the child. Additionally, parents have the right to discipline their children within reason.

Service and earnings

As long as a parent is supporting a minor child, the parent has the right to the child’s earnings and labor. For example, the parents of a teen-aged boy living at home have the right to require him to work on the family farm. Once the child is an adult or the parent no longer supports him, the parent loses the right to his services and earnings.

Medical Treatment

When the life of the child is threatened because of parent’s decision, the state can intervene. Typically, these cases arise where the parents withhold medical treatment. Even if the parents have a religious belief that forbids certain treatment (e.g., a blood transfusion), a court has the authority to make the child a ward of the state and require the medical treatment.

Can a stepparent consent to a stepchild’s medical treatment?

Yes. However, the consent is authorized only in situations where an adult blood relative (such as a grandparent) cannot be reached and the parent is not available.

Can a parent authorize a hospital to take a child off of life-sustaining medical equipment?

Yes. Laws generally allow parents to “let their child die” when the child is terminally ill. Under those circumstances, the parents do not have to consent to continued medical treatment, urgent or not. For example, a child with an inoperable brain tumor which will cause his death will not be legally forced to undergo invasive medical treatment if his parents do not wish him to have it.

SIDEBAR: Parents cannot withhold medical treatment from non-terminal children regardless of the severity of the disease, deformity or disability.

Can a parent authorize a child to donate an organ to save the life of a sibling or parent?

No. Parents are under a duty not to place their children in danger of injury. Since surgery has inherent risks, the child cannot be forced to donate an organ. However, other treatments may be authorized by the parents, such as donating blood or even bone marrow.

My 14-year-old daughter wants to donate a kidney to her brother. Can I authorize the surgery?

No. However, the court can authorize the surgery under the “substituted judgment doctrine.” If the court finds that your daughter, if she was an adult, would come to the decision to donate her kidney to her brother and that she would receive great personal benefit from her act, the judge may permit the surgery.

Can parents bar a child’s access to contraceptives or birth control?

In some states, a physician can determine, without the parent’s consent, whether to prescribe birth control medications. Over-the-counter contraceptives can also be obtained by minors.

Can a minor seek confidential medical treatment?

Yes. In certain circumstances, a physician may not be under a legal obligation to inform parents that she is treating their minor child.

SIDEBAR: Typically, laws allow minors to consent to their own treatment without the additional consent or notification of the parents, where:

  • treatment is sought for an infectious, contagious, or communicable disease of a type that must be reported to a local health board;
  • she is pregnant and seeking medical care (other than an abortion); or
  • treatment for an addiction is being sought.

TIP: Minors on active military duty do not need parental consent for medical treatment.

TIP: Minors who have left home and are supporting themselves can authorize their own medical care if they are at least 16 or 17 years old, depending on the laws of the state.

I’m 17 years old. Can I consent to treatment for my baby?

Yes. If you are the parent of a child, and have custody of that child, you can authorize medical care and treatment for your son or daughter even if you are a minor.

I’m 14, and just found out that I’m pregnant. Can the doctor tell my parents?

Yes. Because you are a minor, the physician is not legally barred from advising your parents of the pregnancy. Although you can consent to your own treatment, the doctor does not have to keep the pregnancy and treatment a secret from your parents. Of course, your medical care is confidential as to any other person.

Can I donate blood if I am minor?

Unless you qualify on a basis that allows you to consent to your own treatment, such as being pregnant, you must have your parent’s permission to give blood.

Can I get an abortion without my parent’s consent?

No. Laws called parental notification acts typically require physicians to notify parents before an abortion is performed unless your life is in immediate danger.

SIDEBAR: A court can issue an order giving a minor the authority to consent over her parent’s objections.

Legal Rights of Children

Although not yet adults, minors have their own legal rights. Laws have been enacted to protect children from abuse and neglect, to give a child access to an education and to give them the right to receive certain federal and state benefits.

If my child inherits money from his grandparents, does it really belong to me?

No. The money belongs to your child; however, you have some control over its use and management as long as it goes to the child’s needs rather than your own. For instance, you are certainly entitled to prevent the child from giving it to his friends, but he is probably within his rights to use the inheritance to purchase a vehicle.

SIDEBAR: Your child’s earnings may belong to you under the law.

Determining Parentage

Because a parent and child are in a legal relationship, the issue of who is the parent is often litigated. As medical technology has advanced, the issue has become more complicated. The Uniform Parentage Act (UPA), enacted by several states, sets the guidelines for the presumption of parentage, recognizes the rights of unmarried parents and uses the term “child with no presumed father,” rather than “illegitimate.” Even states that have not enacted the entire UPA have generally enacted portions into law.

A child’s legal mother is the woman who:

gave birth to the child, or

adopted the child, or

has been adjudicated to be the child’s mother when the child was born to a surrogate.

The issue of the identity of a child’s father, or “paternity,” is often litigated. The law presumes that a man is the father of a child born to his wife, or that he is the father to a child that he acknowledged as his child before the marriage. Fatherhood is also presumed when a man agrees to be the father and is named on the child’s birth certificate.

TIP: The mother of a child and a man claiming to be the father of the child conceived as the result of his sexual intercourse with the mother may sign an acknowledgment of paternity to establish the man’s paternity.

EXAMPLE: A man who is living with the mother of a child during the child’s first 2 years of life and who has represented to the public that he is the child’s father, is the presumptive father. It is not necessary that the man married the mother.

Besides a paternity test, is there another way I can prove that the child my wife had is not mine?

Yes. However, since you are presumed to be the father, you must be able to show that you did not have access to your wife at any time that the baby could have been conceived.

TIP: Proof of a successful vasectomy or impotency rebuts the presumption of fatherhood.

My boyfriend alleges that he is not our son’s father and has denied paternity. He refuses to submit to a DNA test. Can he still prove he is not the father?

No. He was the alleged father because you say he is your son’s father. However, by refusing to submit to a DNA test, he becomes the presumed father and can be made to pay child support.

Can my wife and her boyfriend sign an acknowledgment of paternity to establish that he is the father of our daughter, rather than me?

No. If a child has a presumed father, the acknowledgment is not valid. Husbands are always presumed to be the father of their wife’s children. Your wife’s and her boyfriend’s acknowledgment to the contrary does not affect this presumption.

How do I establish that a man is the father of my child?

You file a suit to establish or adjudicate paternity in the state where you and the child are living.

TIP: A suit to establish paternity cannot be filed once the child becomes an adult.

SIDEBAR: If the child already has a presumed father, a suit to adjudicate paternity, i.e., claiming a different man is the father, must be filed by the time a child is a certain age. For instance, the law in a state might require the suit to be filed by the child’s fourth birthday. After that time, the presumed father’s parental rights cannot be challenged by alleging that another man is the father.

My child has not been born. Can I file a suit to adjudicate paternity?

Yes. You may begin the proceeding before the birth of the child, but the matter will not finalized, i.e. the identity of the father will not be determined, until after the child is born.

My wife and I have never lived together, and I know her daughter is not my child. Can I obtain a legal decree of some sort to establish that I am not the father?

Yes. By virtue of your marriage, you are the presumed father. However, because you did not live with your wife when the child was conceived, you can bring a suit at any time to disprove paternity. Your paternity can be easily disproved with genetic testing.

Do I have to submit to genetic testing in a suit to establish paternity?

Yes. If the court orders you to provide a DNA sample, you must provide one or risk being in contempt of court.

SIDEBAR: Genetic testing is not ordered over the man’s objection until he has been notified of the proceeding, the court has held a hearing and listened to evidence, and the woman has established sufficient facts to allege the man is the father of the child.

SIDEBAR: This testing is not considered to be a violation of a person’s right to privacy or due process under the constitution. While blood and DNA tests may be considered invasive, the state has an interest in establishing a child’s paternity in order to determine who has the duty to support the child.

Pregnancy and Birth

Generally, a woman’s decisions regarding her pregnancy and the birth of her child are solely within her control. She can decide to be under a physician’s care, or not, during the pregnancy. She can give birth at home or in the hospital. In some instances, the woman can choose whether to have a vaginal birth or a caesarean section. In any case, her rights during pregnancy and birth are firmly established.

If I am not a minor, are there any legal requirements I must meet in order to have an abortion?

Yes. A majority of states have laws that, at a minimum, require counseling, receipt of reading materials and viewing a video before a doctor can perform the abortion. Additionally, twenty-six states require a mandatory delay of 24 hours or more after meeting with the doctor (and receiving counseling services if mandated) before an abortion will be performed.

SIDEBAR: Many of these laws are being challenged as unconstitutional.

Is the “abortion pill” available in the United States?

Yes. A “medication abortion” is available to women. A medication abortion is a procedure in which certain prescription medications are administered that end a pregnancy without the necessity of any invasive procedures (other than an injection in some cases.)

Are abortions in the second trimester illegal?

No. However, laws have been enacted in many states banning second trimester abortions unless the health of the mother is in danger.

Is a parent’s consent always required in order for a minor to obtain an abortion?

No. However, nearly half the states have laws requiring parental consent. Nearly all of the remainder of the states require parental notification before the abortion can be performed.

SIDEBAR: Currently, Connecticut, Hawaii, New York, Oregon, Vermont and Washington do not require parental consent or notice before a minor undergoes an abortion.

Can the biological father stop a woman from obtaining an abortion?

No. A father has no legal rights in the abortion decision. The father cannot stop a woman from having an abortion nor force her to have one, even if they are married.

Can I be arrested for taking illegal drugs during a pregnancy?

Yes. Women who have substance abuse problems while pregnant have been arrested and convicted under child abuse laws for harming their unborn child. Additionally, you can always be arrested, pregnant or not, for possession of illegal drugs.

SIDEBAR: The charge typically arises after the child is born ill, disabled, or drug addicted, i.e., “abused.” The prenatal drug habit is evidence that the mother knowingly caused injury to the child.

TIP: Some courts have overturned convictions because they interpreted child abuse laws to cover children and not a fetus. In other words, in these cases the court found that the term “child” as used in child abuse laws, does not mean an unborn child.

SIDEBAR: In jurisdictions that have ruled “child” also means “unborn child,” the mother may be prosecuted for ingesting drugs during the pregnancy even though the child is born without side effects. The theory is that the mother caused the child injury, harm and pain, which constitute child abuse.

Am I required by law to take certain measure to ensure the health and safety of my unborn child?

No. There are no legal requirements that mothers-to-be must follow to protect and guarantee the health of an unborn child.

TIP: Even in states where mothers are prosecuted for abuse to unborn children, no requirements or duties are placed on the mother in caring for the unborn child’s condition.

Can a hospital force me to undergo a caesarean section if the baby’s life is in danger during labor?

No. Since an adult can refuse medical treatment, and the unborn child is still a part of the mother (not a separate person), only the mother’s wishes should be considered. For instance, a Jehovah’s Witness can refuse a blood transfusion, even if the chances are great that she and/or her unborn child could die.

TIP: Because these cases usually arise in emergency circumstances and the court is called in to rule within hours on a life or death situation, the judge may side with the hospital and order the treatment. Caesarean sections have been ordered and performed over the objection of the mother.

Can a mother be prosecuted for leaving her baby at the hospital entrance?

Yes; however, some states have passed laws that allow the woman to overcome the charge if the baby is less than 3 to 30 days old, depending on the state, and was taken to a designated safe place.

Termination of Parental Rights

A parent’s legal right to custody of a child can be terminated by a court. In an adoption, the natural mother voluntarily terminates her rights so that the child may be adopted. However, termination is often involuntary, and the grounds are typically the parent’s neglect and abuse of the child. Grounds for involuntary termination of parental rights include:

  • abandonment;
  • knowingly placing the child in danger;
  • failing to support the child;
  • felony criminal conviction;
  • sexual offenses;
  • murder of one parent by the other parent; and
  • causing the child to be born addicted to drugs or alcohol.

Parents who have children who are placed in foster care do not automatically lose their parental rights. Even a lengthy placement does not allow the court to terminate parental rights. However, parents who fail or refuse to participate in assistance programs that can improve their situation may have their rights terminated while their children are in foster care.

Father’s rights

A father who is not married to the mother of his child has parental rights, but he must exercise them. For instance, laws allow the father’s rights to be terminated if he knew the woman was pregnant but remained completely uninvolved with woman and the pregnancy. He is considered to have abandoned the woman and his rights to the child as well. Generally, in these situations, the father is notified that his parental rights are being terminated and he does not contest the termination.

SIDEBAR: If the father’s whereabouts are unknown, his parental rights can still be terminated. Laws do not require notification when the father cannot be located.

However, a father has the right to oppose or contest the termination. If the termination is contested, evidence must be offered that grounds for terminating the father’s parental rights actually exist.

Is a trial held to determine if a parent’s rights should be terminated?

No. There is a hearing before the judge where evidence is presented through testimony and documents that show the reasons for termination.

Who asks the court to terminate parental rights?

The state agency involved in the care of the child asks the court to terminate parental rights.

SIDEBAR: Once the child has been removed from the home, she is in the custody of the state agency. The agency must attempt to move the child back home and out of foster care by helping the family create an adequate environment for a child. Agencies provide training and programs (such as drug rehabilitation programs) for parents who seek their child’s return.

When does an agency file to terminate a parent’s rights?

Under most laws, state agencies are required to begin termination proceedings once the child has been in foster care for over a year.

Can I oppose an agency’s efforts to terminate my parental rights?

Yes. You are permitted to explain your side of the story to the judge, present evidence and call witnesses to testify in your behalf.

SIDEBAR: Because a parent’s rights are so important, the court must allow a parent, even one who is in jail, to present evidence opposing the termination.

What do I have to prove to keep my parental rights?

Assuming a legal justification exists for terminating your rights, you must show a compelling reason why the rights should not be terminated. There is not an exact set of circumstances that automatically provide a compelling reason, but some of the following reasons have allowed a parent to keep her child:

  • that in 6 months or less, the parent will be able to care for the child again;
  • that the child is old enough to state a preference that parental rights not be terminated;
  • that the parent has maintained contact and the child would benefit from continuing the relationship;
  • that the child is in a residential facility or home, adoption is unlikely and termination is not necessary to place the child; and
  • that the length of time in foster care is due to circumstances beyond the parent’s control, such as court delays or incarceration.

My children have told the judge they do not want my parental rights terminated. Can my rights be terminated over their wishes?

Yes. The children’s preference is only one of the factors a judge considers, especially where children are young and have a chance to be adopted by another family. If the judge finds that the children’s emotional and physical well-being is threatened by returning them to you or that they have lived in foster care for many months and you have not shown improvements in your lifestyle, your parental rights will be terminated.

If I am unable to take care of my child and appoint my sister as his guardian, have I terminated my parental rights?

No. You are still the legal parent of the child; however, all decision-making and custody of the child rests with your sister since she is the guardian.

SIDEBAR: Appointing a guardian for a child is a court proceeding. The judge must approve of and order the guardianship.

Can I voluntarily give up my parental rights?

Yes. In this case, you are relinquishing your rights to your child. Parental rights are routinely relinquished by birth parents that have decided to give a baby up for adoption.

Can the biological father’s parental rights be terminated even where his paternity has not been proved?

Yes. Any alleged biological fathers can have their rights terminated, along with the mother’s and her husband (if she is married). If the mother names five different men that could possibly be the father of her child, then all five men will be part of one lawsuit to terminate parental rights. One of the men cannot go back and say that his rights were improperly terminated, because he did not believe he was the father at the time of the hearing.

Once my parental rights have been terminated, can they be restored in the future?

No. If the child had not yet been adopted, you would have to adopt your child in order to regain your status as her parent. However, since your rights were terminated, it is highly unlikely a judge would find such an adoption to be in the best interests of the child.

Emancipation of Minors

Minors can be adjudicated to be adults, or emancipated, if certain legal requirements are met and the court finds that it is in the best interests of the minor. Once emancipated, any legal limitations that are generally attached to minors are extinguished. For example, the emancipated minor can sign a lease contract.

Requirements

In order to be declared an adult, the minor must file a petition with the court. Generally, laws prohibit minors under 16 or 17 years of age from filing a petition under any circumstances. The minor may also be required to be living on her own and be self-supporting at the time she files the petition.

SIDEBAR: The minor can file the petition in her own name.

SIDEBAR: The court may be required to appoint an attorney (the attorney ad litem) to represent the minor.

If my 16-year-old daughter becomes emancipated, will I still be entitled to receive child support from my ex-husband?

No. The obligation to pay child support usually terminates when the child becomes an adult. Once your daughter is emancipated, she is legally an adult and your ex-husband no longer has to pay child support.

What is partial emancipation?

Partial emancipation means that child is emancipated only:

  • for a certain period of time, or
  • for some special purpose (such as the right to earn and spend his/her own wages) or
  • from a part of a parent’s rights (such as the right to make decisions about a pregnancy).

SIDEBAR: A minor that is partially emancipated is still entitled to support from her parents (although she is able to make her own legal decisions), and an ex-spouse would have to continue to pay child support until the child was 18 years old.

Can an emancipated minor vote before he turns 18 years old?

No. Although considered an adult for some legal purposes, the law requires voters to be 18 years old.

Does the 21-year-old age limit for drinking apply to me if I am emancipated?

Yes. You are still required to follow the law, and the law requires a person to be 21 years old before he or she can purchase or drink alcohol.

Am I automatically emancipated if I join the armed services?

No. In fact, parental consent is required before a minor is allowed to join or enlist in the military.

TIP: Under-age members of the military may consent to their own medical treatment.

Does getting married emancipate me?

Yes. Laws in some states permit married minors to consent to medical treatment for themselves and their children, enter in to contracts, and make other legal decisions.

SIDEBAR: Having a child does not confer emancipation upon a minor, although the minor parent can consent to medical treatment for the child.

I am 17 years old and signed an apartment lease. Is it valid?

Yes. However, since you are under age, you can “void” or break the contract. Generally, minors cannot be held to the terms of a contract they enter into on their own. If you are emancipated, a court may require you to fulfill the lease obligation.