Can you be required to pay child support even though your child has turned 18 years old?
In Georgia, child support can continue even after a child has reached 18 years old and is considered to be an adult. It is customary to include language in the parties divorce decree that states child support shall continue after the parties child reaches 18 years old and is still enrolled in high school.
Even though the child has turned 18 and is considered an adult, a party shall be obligated to continue paying child support if it says so in the divorce decree or child support order. Any attempt to stop paying child support may be grounds for the other party to file a contempt.
So when does child support end in Georgia?
Georgia courts consider final divorce decrees to be contracts and both parties are contractually obligated to fulfill their terms of the contract. As long as the wording in the divorce decree is clear and unambiguous, the language of the decree will control.
Recent Georgia Case on Child Support Obligations for Children 18 and Over
In Albritton v. Kopp, the Supreme Court of Georgia addressed whether a father was legally obligated to continue to pay child support after his daughter had turned 18, but had not yet graduated from high school because she was a few credits short.
The facts are as follows:
Incorporated in the parties final divorce decree, the father was obligated to pay child support for his daughter so long as she was enrolled as a full-time high school student, or until she reached the age of 20.
In this case, the parties 18 year old daughter remained a few credits shy from graduating high school on time. In order to graduate, she was required to complete two semesters of advanced math, one semester of economics and one semester of government. The daughter was subsequently enrolled as a 5th year senior to complete the required classes.
Thereafter, the father stopped paying child support, claiming the daughter was not enrolled in enough classes to be classified as a full-time high school student and he was no longer obligated by the divorce decree to pay child support.
The mother filed a motion for contempt based on the father’s non-payment of child support.
After a hearing, the trial court denied the mother’s motion, stating the parties daughter was not enrolled as a full-time high school student and the father was no longer obligated to pay child support.
The mother appealed the trial court’s ruling.
The sole issue in this case is whether the trial court properly interpreted the phrase “full-time high school student” in context of the parties final divorce decree.
Although the divorce decree did not define “full-time high school student,” the Supreme Court of Georgia has construed the phrase, to mean “continuous attendance during the normal school year.” See Mims v. Mims, 297 Ga. 70 (2015).
As such, the Court determined the parties daughter met the definition of a full-time high school student and obligated the father to continue paying child support.
The father argued the parties intended to adopt the school’s definition of full-time student – a student who is scheduled to attend 7 instructional segments a day. However, this definition was not incorporated into the parties final divorce decree, therefore the plain language of the divorce decree itself would control.
Albritton v. Kopp S16A1665 (2/6/2017)