Generally, in Texas, a child support obligation lasts until the child turns 18 or graduates high school. Which ever event occurs the later of the two will control. However, in some circumstances, the answer to the question may be slightly different. The Texas Family Code governs the tenure of the child support obligation. We will discuss them in detail below.
Consider this Example...
Mark and Alice Douglas married eight years ago. Mark is an educator, while Alice is a counselor. They have two children. One boy and one girl. Their little boy is six years old, while their daughter is five years old. They live in a small, yet up and coming suburb right outside of a major Texas city.
Mark is an avid outdoorsman. He loves to hunt, fish, and boat. When he's not enjoying the outdoors, he loves spending time with his family. However, within the last year of he and Alice's marriage, Mark has grown extremely unhappy.
He has contemplated getting a divorce multiple times, but has chosen not to, due to the effects that it would have on his children. Specifically, he is concerned about the amount of time that he would have to spend with his children should he and Alice divorce. Additionally, he worries about how long he would have to pay child support.
Alice loves to shop and travel. She browses her favorite retailers online weekly, and she shops in store at least once a week. In her free time, she enjoys hanging out with her family. She adores her children, and she is especially attentive to them. However, within the last year of she and Mark's marriage, she has grown increasingly disengaged with her marriage. She and Mark often argue about finances.
After each argument, Alice always pondered about filing for divorce. She was hesitant about filing for divorce because she was concerned about her life after a divorce. She felt as though she would be scrutinized by her colleagues, family, and friends. Most of all, Alice is concerned about the well-being of her children.
Last month, Mark decided to file for divorce. He's agreed to pay child support on temporary orders and expects that he will be ordered to continue to make payments on final orders. Mark is known as the obligor parent (the parent responsible for making child support payments). How long will Mark be required to pay child support in Texas? We will discuss the answer below.
Length Of Child Support Payments
In our scenario, Mark has two children. Therefore, Mark will be required to pay child support until each of the children turn 18, or graduate high school. However, if either of the children get married before they graduate high school or turn 18, Marks's obligation for support would end.
Moreover, according to the Texas Family Code, Section 154.001, parents have a duty to provide child support to their children. In Texas, the obligation of child support continues until any one of the following occurs:
1. The child reaches 18 years of age or the child graduates from high school, whichever occurs later; or
2. The child is emancipated through marriage, or through removal of the disabilities of minority by court order, or by other operation of law; or
3. The child dies.
Furthermore, the child support obligation will continue after the child reaches 18 years of age or graduates high school if the child is disabled for an indefinite period.What does all of this mean? We will discuss each event that triggers the termination of a child support payment obligation below.
The Child Reaches 18 Years Of Age Or The Child Graduates From High School, Whichever Occurs Later
If either of Mark and Alice's children is emancipated through marriage, or through the removal of the disabilities of minority by court order, or by other operation of law, then Mark's obligation to make support payments will cease. Emancipation means that a child that is under eighteen is no legally under no duty to remain under the supervision of their parents. If a child is still in school when they turn eighteen, then the support obligation will continue.
For a real example of how this all works, see Lowe v. Roberts, No. 14-10-01191-CV, 2012 Tex. App. LEXIS 155, at *1 (App. Jan. 10, 2012) [ When the child turned 18 years old, she moved out of the father's home and moved in with the mother. The mother petitioned the trial court to modify the parent-child relationship to award her certain exclusive rights, including the right to receive support for the child. The father argued that the mother could not receive child support because the conservatorship right to receive child support was a pre-requisite to obtaining child support, and the mother did not possess this conservatorship right before the child's 18th birthday.
The appellate court ruled that the trial court had jurisdiction to award child support. Tex. Fam. Code Ann. § 154.002(b) (2008) provided that the request for a support order through high school graduation could be filed before or after the child's 18th birthday. Also, the mother was not a possessory conservator; she and the father both were joint managing conservators. The trial court had authority to require one joint managing conservator to pay child support to another joint managing conservator.]
The Child is Emancipated Through Marriage, Or Removal Of The Disabilities Of Minority By Court Order, Or By Other Operation Of Law
So what does the phrase, "removal of the disabilities of minority by court order mean?" It simply means, that in the eyes of the law, the child at the center of a child support order is no longer considered to be a child. As such, a parent has no obligation to render support to an individual who is no longer considered to be a child.
Emancipation through marriage, generally means that if a child marries, then the child support obligation ceases. The removal of disabilities of minority by court order occurs when a Judge issues an order that permits a child to have the same rights as an adult.
In our context, if either one of Mark and Alice's children gets emancipated, then Mark's support obligation would end. For an example of how a court might rule on this situation in real life, see In the Interest of Child, 2016 Tex. Dist. LEXIS 2146 [ Where the court ordered a child emancipated and the obligor parent was not ordered to pay child support.
The Child Dies
Gratefully, I have never encountered this yet but this triggering event is pretty straight forward. If a child dies, the obligor parent is no longer responsible for making support payments.
Indefinite Period Of Child Support
What is considered to be an indefinite period of child support? Child support may be ordered for an indefinite period when there is a disabled child. What does it mean to be disabled?
According to the Texas Family Code Section, 154.302“Disabled” means:
1. Requiring substantial care and personal supervision because of a disability and is not capable of self-support’; and
2. Existing before the child’s 18th birthday. The child support payments for a disabled child may go to the guardian or conservator of the child or the adult child directly.
Keeping Mark and Alice in mind, let's change the facts of their situation. Let's say that their little girl suffered from a physical disability that required Alice to provide substantial daily care to her. Also, their little girl's disability is a life-long disability. She will always require the assistance of someone else to thrive and perform daily tasks. Does this constitute an indefinite disability? The short answer would be yes. Therefore, in this situation, Mark could be ordered to pay child support for an indefinite amount of time.
Child support in Texas must be paid. Generally, in Texas, a child support obligation lasts until the child turns 18 or graduates high school. However, the tenure of support payments will be determinate upon each individuals situation.