A Look at How Emancipation Works in Indiana

Understanding How Emancipation Works in Child Support Matters

One of the most common calls we receive on family law related matters is in regards to what happens during an emancipation of a child for child support purposes. While most parents feel an obligation to pay child support for as long as they must by law, many also realize that many courts fail to cease income withholdings or child support payments at the exact moment they are supposed to. In return, many are left paying hundreds and thousands of dollars beyond the timeframe they are required to by statute.
So what is the age in which emancipation actually sets in? You might be surprised. If you took a poll of most people involved in family law matters involving child support, 90% would of the people truly believe that emancipation begins at age eighteen (18), the age of majority — or in layman’s terms, the age of adulthood. However, that is an inaccurate statement of the law. In fact, until a couple of years ago, the age of emancipation was set at twenty-one (21) years old!
According to I.C. 31-16-6-6, the age of emancipation has dropped from twenty-one (21) down to nineteen (19), or that child has joined the United States armed services, is not under the care or control of either parent or court appointed guardian, or is eighteen (18) years old and has not attended school for four (4) months, is not currently enrolled in school, and/or is financially capable of supporting themselves.
In determining whether or not a child is able to support themselves financially, courts often look to a few things: (1) is the child living on their own?, (2) who pays for the child’s housing?, (3) is the child in school?, (4) does the child currently work? If so, how much do they make and how often do they work?, (5) what bills does the child have and who pays them?, etc. Often times a child may not be living at home, but the court recognizes that they are still dependent on the parents or others to financially support them. If that’s the case, they truly are not emancipated for court purposes — therefore, child support continues.
So, logic then leads to reason that once your child reaches nineteen (19) or meets another criterion above, you can just stop making child support payments, correct? Wrong. In order for child support payments to cease, ISET’s (or the state’s child support payment system for the layman) has to administratively and automatically cease, there either has to be an agreement by the parties, a hearing on the matter, or a court order. Child support cannot unilaterally be terminated by either party or by any singular event, contrary to what many think!
Assuming that there is only one child involved in the child support order, or the youngest child is now reaching the age of nineteen (19), the state’s ISETS system ¬†should catch the emancipation, and child support should terminate. However, quite often this is overlooked and missed by the software program or state agency. Therefore, it’s essential that the party paying the child support stays on top of when their youngest (or only) child is reaching emancipation age.
If the parties have an existing order on multiple children and any one of the children remains under nineteen (19) year of age, for every child older that reaches the age of emancipation, the parties must draft a modification order to terminate child support at that time. It is not automatically terminated by ISETS, unfortunately, as non-emancipated children must still receive their dues. As such, again, it’s essential that the parties stay on top of when each and every child is due to be emancipated.
Furthermore, even if a child is emancipated, if the paying parent is in the arrearages at all, the child can still be emancipated, but it’s essential that the receiving parent of the child support file an income withholding order to ensure they continue to be paid for monies due. That’s an important distinction, because emancipation never eliminates a parent from owing past due monies. This has to be the case otherwise people would never pay child support and would wait for the children to reach emancipation age to rear their heads again.
Lastly, while child support ends at the age of nineteen (19), regardless of the child being in school or not, emancipation will terminate the need for child support. Therefore, if the parties wish for child support to continue for educational expenses to be included as support, the parties must petition the court for an education expenses order. This order will determine what happens with educational expenses including post-secondary education, post-high school educational expenses. Should this be an issue you have forgotten to address for child support order prior to 07/01/2012, you have until your child turns twenty-one (21) to address it. If your child support order was post-07/07/2012, then you have until your child turns nineteen (19). Otherwise, the issue is moot.
As anyone can see, emancipation can be a complicated issue, and one that can have a huge financial impact on both parents. Should you or a loved one find yourself in a situation where emancipation might be becoming an issue, give the experienced Indianapolis Family Law Attorneys at Banks & Brower, LLC, a call today at 317.870.0019 or email us at info@banksbrower.com. We take calls 24/7/365.