Child Support – How long is it Paid and What about Multiple Children of Different Ages
Georgia Law strictly requires that child support be paid until the “child reaches the age of majority, dies, marries or becomes emancipated, whichever first occurs.” O.C.G.A Section 19-6-15 (e). However, the trail court judge has the authority to extend that child support obligation up to age 20, if the child is still enrolled in high school. Thus, if the child support order simply says “until age 18” and does not mention anything about high school graduation, then that child support obligation terminates on the child’s 18th birthday, whether the child has graduated high school or not. For an 18 year old in the tenth grade, that is the difference of approximately two years in support obligation.
Georgia case law has held that if the original child support order is set to terminate upon the child’s 18th birthday, the duration of the child support order cannot be changed in a modification case.
The issue of whether a non-custodial parent would want the child support to stop for the 18 year old child, even if that child had not yet graduated from high school may be a sensitive issue and it should be discussed between counsel and client. However, if the custodial parent is represented by counsel and they are aware that the child will turn 18 before graduation, one would expect this issue to be raised. In my experience, I believe most judges would order that the child support continue until graduation from high school.
What about situations where there are multiple children of different ages when the child support order is entered?
One may think that once the older children age out, that the child support amount would be modified or reduced. This may or may not be the case, depending on the language in the initial child support order. All other factors being equal, when child support is entered for two minor children compared to one child, the difference is substantial, but it is not a factor of two. When a third child is added to the mix, the obligation goes up, but to a lesser degree than the difference between one and two children. That differential increase when a fourth or fifth child is added becomes even smaller.
O.C.G.A. Section 19-6-15(k) lists the reasons for which one may seek a modification of child support. That an older child has aged out of the child support obligation is not listed as a reason for a modification. In a child support order with multiple children of different ages, the settlement agreement or the court order should be drafted in a way that contemplates the support being modified when the older children age out. Without such precise drafting, and if there were no other material changes in circumstances that would otherwise warrant a support modification case, such as a decrease in income, then that non-custodial parent may be stuck paying an amount calculated for multiple children when there are now fewer children still within the age of the support requirement.