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What happens with my divorce decree when my child graduates?

by | May 29, 2020 | Child Support, Child Support Modification, Children In Divorce |

For many high school seniors, it’s graduation season. Even though it’s been dramatically transformed by the pandemic and the accompanying economic downturn, it’s still a time of hope and belief. San Antonio ISD, signaling that we’re slowly getting back to a new normal, is planning outdoor graduation ceremonies at Alamo Stadium in June.

Parents of graduating seniors feel all kinds of emotions: They’re wistful, they’re even a little sad about the realization that their babies are all grown up, but above all else, they’re proud.

For divorced parents, however, graduation marks another milestone. In many cases, specifically with children who turn 18 prior to high school graduation, it marks the end of two items at the core of a divorce decree: parenting time guidelines and child support payments.

With no parenting time guidelines governing your new adult, it’s really up to your 18-year-old as to which parent he or she wants to stay with going forward. If your 18-year-old has younger siblings, it may make the most sense to have your new adult accompany siblings according to their parenting time schedules. As we often say in connection with the divorce decree, it’s there as a fallback if you need it, but there might be something that works better than what’s written in the decree. And, as long as both parents agree to it and you commit it to text or email, you can all move forward with it. Once that child is 18, though, that fallback no longer applies. And that potentially means a whole new shift in the parents’ relationship.

If you’re receiving child support for just one child, that will stop per most decrees either when the child turns 18 or graduates from high school. It’s typically whatever comes later, so it’s possible that your 17-year-old high school graduate will receive child support even if he or she is off to college before turning 18. It’s best to check the language on your decree to know for sure, and to contact a family lawyer if you’re suddenly getting less than you think you’re owed from your ex

In some cases, parents will recognize the need for support beyond graduation and write that into the decree. It is, of course, possible to modify a decree to change terms of child support, but for support of a child 18 or over, it’s much more likely for a judge to sign off on it only if it’s for a compelling reason. If you have a special needs child who will continue to live at home beyond his or her 18th birthday, that’s a more likely scenario for extending child support.

If you’ve receiving child support for more than one child, the amount you’ll receive per month will adjust based on what’s written in the decree. (You might, for example, have two children, and see a monthly payment go from $1000 to $750 once your oldest child reaches the milestone in the decree. For parents with guideline child support, that “stepdown” is intended to diminish the child support obligation by five percent for each child. For Texans, the OAG website’s free monthly child support calculator is a great tool to determine what amount of child support you should be receiving.)

If you’re paying child support, and you pay via paycheck withholding, you should see the amount automatically adjusted in your paycheck statement. If it doesn’t, you’ll want to check with both your employer’s payroll department and the OAG. It’s obviously something you’ll want to address as soon as possible; unless you have an ex willing to refund you the overpayment, you might have a hard time getting the overpayment back into your bank account.

The other element of child support you need to think about is health insurance. In some decrees, one parent will pay the other to offset the cost of keeping that child insured. While many plans allow for children to stay on a parent’s health plan beyond age 18 and beyond high school graduation, it’s worth checking on both your health insurance and decree to determine how your new adult is being covered and who’s financially responsible for keeping it that way.

For all parents, a child’s graduation represents change, but it also represents accomplishment. For divorced parents, it represents something particularly special. Divorce can be hard on parents and children, and it can be one of the big obstacles a child negotiates on the way to graduation. When parents work together and focus on their children through the divorce process, they help to lessen the severity of the obstacle that divorce creates. Graduation is something that should, no matter the differences between divorced parents, bring them together in feeling proud and saying, “We did it!”