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Emancipation and Termination of Child Support In Missouri

In Kansas, most child support orders have a specific or calculated date when the parent’s support obligation terminates. However, in Missouri, it is much more open-ended. This is because Missouri allows child support to continue through age 21 if certain requirements are met. This creates a situation where the family support payment center that processes child support payments presumes that a parent’s support obligation will continue, but if the child does not meet the criteria to allow the obligation to continue, the burden is on the parent paying child support to file the paperwork to ask the court to discontinue his or her child support obligation. The failure to make this request will result in the court assuming that the child support should continue until age 21, instead of age 18. For many parents, the cost of paying child support for three additional years if their child does not meet the criteria for continued parental support is significant enough that the parent decides it is a worthwhile cost benefit analysis to seek to terminate his or her child support obligation.

In Missouri in order for a child to continue to be eligible for a parent paying child support after he or she turns 18 and/or graduates from high school, a child needs to enroll in an institution of vocational or higher education by October first following graduation from high school (or completion of a GED program). If the child enrolls at the appropriate time and complies with other eligibility criteria, the obligation for child support can continue until the child completes the post-secondary program or turns 21, whichever occurs first. General additional requirements include that the child must enroll for and complete at least twelve hours of credit each semester, not including the summer semester, and achieve satisfactory grades to reenroll.

There are some additional provisions providing that a child who is employed at least fifteen hours per week during the semester may take as few as nine credit hours for the semester and still remain eligible for continued receipt of child support so long as all other requirements are met. Also, a child who has been diagnosed with a developmental delay, disability, or whose physical disability or other diagnosed health problem limits the child's ability to carry the statutorily-required credit hours, is still able to remain eligible for child support so long as the child is still enrolled in and attending an institution of vocational or higher education and the child complies with other requirements.

In order to remain eligible for continued parental support, at the beginning of each semester the child is required to present each parent with a transcript or other similar official document from the institution of vocational or higher education including the courses the child is enrolled in and has completed for each semester, the grades and credits received for each such course, and an official document from the institution listing the courses the child is enrolled for the upcoming semester, including the number of credits for each course. If the child fails to comply with this requirement, the paying parent can request an abatement or temporary relief from their support obligation for the period of non-compliance. Additionally, if the parent paying support makes a formal request for the required documents, and the child fails to produce them within 30 days, the child support may then terminate without an obligation for the accrual of support arrearage, and the child support is not eligible for reinstatement. Finally, the child or parent paying support may request that the court amend a child support order to request or require the parent paying support to make the payments directly to the child. 

Under Missouri law, an "institution of vocational education" can be broadly determined to mean any postsecondary training or education for which the student is assessed a fee and attends classes regularly, including through online formats. "Higher education" means any community college, college, or university where the child attends classes regularly.

Often, if a child does not comply with the requirements of attending post-secondary education, a parent desires to emancipate hisr her child. This is a legal determination by the court that the child is no longer subject to a support responsibility or obligation. If the parents are in agreement that the child is no longer subject to the right to receive child support, then the parents can agree to terminate the parent’s support obligation. However, if there is more than one child subject to the current order of support, the parties are required to initiate a modification of child support to recalculate the amount of support required for the one or more children remaining. Additionally, in many circumstances, one parent feels a child should be emancipated and the other parent feels that the child has had extenuating circumstances such that the child should continue to receive child support to continue or finish his or her secondary education. Often these cases are litigated with evidence presented to the court and the court makes a decision on meeting the emancipation criteria- or not. 

If your child desires to continue with his or her post-secondary education and you want to ensure that your child meets the criteria to continue receiving child support, it is a good idea to schedule a consultation with a knowledgeable family law attorney so you can understand your child’s responsibilities to maintain support and ensure that he or she fully complies with the complex statutory requirements. 

Finally, it is important for both parents to know that a Missouri child support obligation may continue even after a child turns 21 if the child is unmarried, insolvent and physically or mentally incapacitated and incapable of becoming self-supporting. If you believe your child is in this situation, you should consult with a family law attorney knowledgeable about emancipation and physical or mental incapacitation significantly before your child’s 18th birthday to plan for his or her needs. Family law judges in Missouri will need to rely, at least in part, on complex medical evidence and expert diagnoses to guide the judge on whether your child’s situation requires an order or determination of non-emancipation. 

As you can see, the age of emancipation in Missouri depends upon many factors considering the academic and medical status of your child. If you believe any of these considerations apply, or could possibly apply, you are well-advised to invest in a consultation so that you can plan and prepare the evidence necessary to ensure the needs of your child are met. For a detailed discussion about the specific circumstances of your situation and the needs of your child, please contact Pingel Family Law at (816) 208-8130 for a consultation and detailed case assessment today. Similarly if you are subject to an order of child support and you want to seek the termination of that order, contact our office to discuss and plan for the circumstances of your needs and situation. 

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