Recently, this blog touched upon some of the circumstances in which a parent’s child support obligation might continue even after the child has turned 18. Some of those scenarios included things like a child who’s on track for graduating high school after turning 18 but before 19, or a child who has disabilities.
There is, however, another way in which you might find yourself paying child support on a child who has already turned 18, and it is a reminder that no detail in your marital settlement agreement is too small to deserve full and careful attention, and no spouse should navigate the divorce process in this state without an experienced South Florida divorce attorney by your side.
Here’s a case that drives home that point: G.S. and T.S. were the divorced parents of three children. The spouses signed their divorce agreement in 2005. Eventually, the father fell behind on child support and his wages were garnished.
Over the years, one by one, the children each reached the age of 18. However, the father’s wages continued being garnished, at the full amount, with no reduction… even after the youngest graduated high school. Eventually, the spouses were back in court in Broward County over the father’s alleged arrearage, which still exceeded $21,000. The father argued that he should have received an automatic 33 1/3% reduction in his support obligation with each child’s turning 18, but didn’t. Factoring all of the relevant events and reductions in, there was no arrearage at all, according to the husband’s arguments.
So, was the husband right? The answers were, as happens in many legal issues, “it depends” and “not exactly.”
As far the husband’s argument that he was automatically entitled to a reduction once each child turned 18 or graduated high school, he was not correct that it was automatic. Whether or not he could receive a reduction depended on whether or not the child support was what the law calls “allocated” or “unallocated.” If it was allocated then yes, each child’s turning 18 or graduating could trigger an opportunity to receive a reduction. Note the flip side of what that means, though: if your marital settlement agreement or your divorce judgment says that your child support obligation was unallocated, then the simple fact that the eldest of your several children turned 18 or graduated doesn’t necessarily entitle you to anything in terms of a reduction of child support.
What’s in (or not in) the agreement makes all the difference
It all comes down to the exact sentence in the exact paragraph of your marital settlement agreement or divorce judgment to determine what happens. In G.S. and T.S.’s case, their marital settlement agreement said that the father’s child support was “continuing as each child reaches the age of 18, or graduates high school, whichever is later.” Some years ago, Florida courts determined that, when this language is included in a marital settlement agreement, that means that the support is allocated. So, the husband was successful on this point.
The husband was not exactly correct about each child’s emancipation automatically triggering a reduction in the exact amount of 33 1/3%. Again, it comes down to what’s in the marital settlement agreement. If the MSA had said that the father was entitled to a 1/3 reduction upon each child’s graduating or turning 18, then that is the reduction that should have happened.
However, in this couple’s case, the MSA did not state anything about the amount of reduction that each child’s emancipation should trigger. When that happens, the parents are required to go to court and the judge holds a hearing in order to determine exact how much reduction should occur after each child’s emancipation. That may mean a 33 1/3% reduction, or it may mean a different percentage.
So, what you can see from all of that is that the terms of your marital settlement agreement matter a great deal. The courts will go a long way toward honoring whatever your document says that you and your ex-spouse agreed to. That’s why it is so important to be sure the MSA you end up with is the MSA you can live with.
Whether you are working to negotiate a settlement agreement or enforce one that is already in place, protect yourself by retaining the skilled South Florida child support attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. Our diligent attorneys have been providing clients with the effective representation they deserve in a full array of family law cases. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.