Child support is frequently a contentious issue between parents. One parent may resent the amount of the child support payment they give or receive. Another may feel as though the money they provide is being misused.
Parents who have child support obligations may wonder when that obligation will end. In Colorado, the standard is to halt court-ordered child support once the child has been emancipated. This is when the child is legally recognized as an adult. For the most part, this happens when the child turns 19. However, there are some things to consider regarding the support obligations.
What Does Emancipation Mean for Child Support in Colorado?
When the child becomes emancipated, the non-custodial parent is no longer responsible for paying child support to the other party. By default, all children become emancipated at the age of 19. But there are also several cases when a minor can get emancipated earlier.
There are situations where a child may be considered emancipated before they turn 19. For example, if a child gets married or joins the military, child support normally ends. The same goes for children who are employed and living independently.
Here's how someone under 19 can get emancipated in Colorado:
- Get married
- Join the military
- Prove that you are self-sufficient by conduct
- Petition the court for early emancipation
If your child is deemed emancipated, you may no longer need to pay child support. However, in such a case, you’d need to inform the courts about the change in the child’s status by filing a motion to terminate child support. Based on the provided information, the judge will make a ruling within 49 days.
2022 Colorado Child Support Laws Regarding Emancipation
Colorado does not have a separate emancipation statute, which dictates the provisions around being granted an emancipated status. Instead, the courts rely on fact-based evidence, presented either by the child or their parent, when making emancipation rulings.
In regards to child support, most of the decisions are made based on the Colorado Revised Statutes of Domestic Matters. This document states:
- All child support payments automatically stop when the child reaches age 19. No court filings are required.
- However, the court may grant an extension of child support payments if the child is disabled or is still completing their high school education.
- Colorado emancipation laws also state that parents must annually exchange the information surrounding any changes regarding the child’s emancipation status.
The only recent proposed change to the legislature surrounding emancipation was a 2019 bill suggesting to increase the age of marriage to 18 years unless the minor is emancipated and create a statutory emancipation procedure. However, the bill wasn’t yet approved.
Overall, you can always request further information and assistance with child support issues from the Colorado Child Support Services division of the Department of Human Services. To do so, complete and file this form. However, you should note that Colorado CSS helps with determining and enforcing child support obligations but does not provide legal services.
Colorado Higher Education Emancipation Laws
A child becomes emancipated when they reach an “age of majority.” The purpose of creating an “age of majority” was to establish an age where people are generally financially and legally responsible for themselves.
In the U.S, this age was once 21 but has since been changed to 19. However, after the changes took place, it was recognized that some individuals turned 19 while still in high school.
Because high school students are dependent financially on at least one parent in almost all cases, an exception to the law was created. Parents with students still in high school are obligated to continue child support payments even if their child turns 19. Their support obligation terminates a month after the child graduates. If the child stops attending school, child support ends as well.
However, the obligation will start again if the child re-enrolls. In any case, child support for a student in high school will never extend beyond the child’s 21st birthday.
Child Support and Disabilities
If a child is physically or mentally disabled and dependent upon parents for care, the child support obligation will continue as long as the disability is present. However, if the disability occurs after the child turns 19, child support may or may not be ordered.
Emancipation laws in Colorado allow for certain child support payments to continue beyond the age of 19 for vulnerable young adults. As a parent of a disabled child, you can petition the court to request the continuation of coverage for medical expenses or insurance. However, you will have to file a separate motion and attend child support modification hearings in most cases.
Voluntary Continuation of Support
Parents are not forced to stop providing financial support to an emancipated minor or when their child turns 19. Many parents opt to pay support while the child is enrolled in college or some other milestone is met.
Similarly, the divorce settlement agreement you’ve reached with your spouse may also state that the child support shall continue beyond the emancipation age. If that is the case, the laws require the other parent to fulfill this obligation.
Never-married couples may also opt to enter an agreement on their own relating to child support. However, doing so without getting advice from an experienced family lawyer is a bad idea.
Can a Child Emancipate Themselves?
Yes, such a scenario is possible in Colorado. The child can independently petition a court to obtain an emancipated status starting from age 15. However, they’d have to either meet one of the emancipation criteria — be married, enrolled in the military, or have the ability to support themselves fully.
Proving the latter, however, can be rather challenging. As a minor, you'd need to showcase to the court that you can handle all financial obligations without the assistance of anyone else. These include your ability to pay rent/housing costs, purchase food, cover personal medical expenses, and other types of actual payments. You must also prove that no parent or relative financially supports you through gifts, loans, trust funds, or other assets established on your behalf.
If you can provide sufficient evidence of the above, the court will issue a special decree confirming your emancipated status.
How Long Does it Take to Get Emancipated in Colorado?
If you decide to go through the emancipation procedure as a minor, Colorado courts will require you to prove your independent status over a one-year waiting period. During that time, you’d have to prepare and provide evidence of your financial independence, as well as your ability to make mature decisions. You’ll also have to attend emancipation hearings, where you’d need to communicate your rationale to the judges further. So at the very least, you should be looking at 12 months.
If you think that you have grounds to argue an exception to the rules outlined above, get in touch with one of our child support lawyers in Brighton. We’d be delighted to provide sound advice on moving forward.