Divorcing Parents and Their Emancipated Children

Divorcing Parents and Their Emancipated Children by Susan Ingram

{2:36 minutes to read}

If divorcing parents have children, the divorce law of the state in which they reside will determine the amount of child support that must be paid for the children’s basic and additional expenses. The state law will also specify until what age the parents are required to support their children.

So, for instance, in New York (where I practice as a mediator/attorney), the law requires parents to support their children until they are 21 years old. At that point, the law considers the children to be “emancipated,” which means the parents no longer have a financial obligation to support them.

But how does this play out in real terms, especially if the children are planning to attend college? The presumption used to be that students would enter college right after high school and complete their studies within a 4-year period. Nowadays, however, students may put off entering college for a year or two after high school, or may extend their studies beyond 4 consecutive years. As part of the discussions in mediation, some couples may agree to continue support payments beyond a child’s 21st birthday to cover the period of time that the child is actually attending college.

Additionally, given changing societal trends, more young adults (in the group referred to as the Millennials), are returning to live at home after they graduate from college. Some studies suggest the primary factors in this trend are the significant increase in student loan debt and the older age at which young people are getting married.

Whatever the reasons, both parents and their children find themselves dealing with this “new reality.” Typically, the returning child will reside with one of the parents, who will then bear the onus of housing, food and other costs for the child. Divorcing couples may choose to extend their support responsibilities after the children are emancipated and continue to live at home or return home after graduation.

Mediation provides a flexible environment in which a divorcing couple can at least explore how they wish to handle this situation and perhaps include appropriate language in their settlement agreement to reflect their wishes.

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