WHAT IS EMANCIPATION?
“Emancipation” means that a child is no longer the financial responsibility of their parents. In Georgia, child support obligations are automatically ended when the child graduates from high school or turns 20, whichever occurs first, but there are circumstances in which a child may become emancipated before reaching the age of majority. A child can be emancipated through marriage, joining the military, achieving economic independence, and a complete abandonment of the family home. All of these circumstances indicate that the child is legally self-sufficient, and therefore no longer entitled to support. An emancipated minor is treated as an adult in the eyes of the law.
It is important to note that emancipation is not necessarily a permanent state; in Georgia, an emancipation may be rescinded if the child resumes a family relationship with their parents that is not in keeping with the original emancipation request, or if the child and parents request that the emancipation be reversed. There is also legal precedent for child support to be paid for a minor child who has married and divorced and returned to the care of a parent. If a child returns to the care and custody of a parent, they most likely will no longer be considered emancipated by the court, and child support obligations may resume.
CHILD SUPPORT PAST THE AGE OF MAJORITY
The court may also order that child support continues beyond emancipation in special circumstances. If a child has special needs, the court may require a parent to pay child support after the child reaches the age of majority in order to contribute to the continued requirements of their care. Parents may also choose to agree to an extended agreement that would, for example, continue to support the child through post-secondary education, even though it is not legally mandated.
HOW DO CHILD SUPPORT OBLIGATIONS STOP?
The majority of states do not automatically cease child support; instead, the non-custodial parent must request for child support payments to be terminated when a child is emancipated. Georgia is an outlier in this scenario; when a minor child is emancipated or reaches the age of majority, child support obligations cease. However, there is no automatic reduction in payments if you make child support payments to support more than one child and one child has been emancipated. It may seem logical that if you were paying child support for two minor children in the past you would owe less now that you are only supporting one minor child, but this is not how the court works. A reduction in payments is not a right, and you must file a motion to modify child support payments to receive a reduction.
GEORGIA CHILD SUPPORT LAWS
Georgia’s child support laws are complicated, and the penalties for failing to comply with the statutes are steep. A parent who has failed to pay child support can be held in contempt of the court and even sentenced to jail time. Child support is the right of minor children, and the state takes it very seriously. That said, marriage, military service, and more can mark independence for a child and signal an end to your obligation for child support. Seek out the advice of an experienced family attorney to make sure you have a complete understanding of all your child support obligations.