January 14, 2015
In the District of Columbia, child support continues until the age of 21 or until the minor child is deemed emancipated.
This law creates some unique situations. Courts cannot decide custody for children over 18, but child support is still on the table. Cases in which custody was never an issue, but child support becomes contested after the age of 18 present interesting situations.
For example, take the case of a child who is 18 years old and away in another state attending college. The child resides out of state for most of the year. The child comes to visit both the mother and the father during breaks. If there was no prior custody order adjudicating one parent the custodian, how will the court decide child support? The court may determine where the child considers “home” and how many days the child spends at each parent’s house.
Let’s suppose the Court determines that the child lives with the mother 70% of the time during breaks. Then the Court can run the DC Child Support Guidelines with the 70/30 percentage split. However, the guidelines may result in the father owing a significant amount of money for child support. If the Court deems the guideline is unfair or unjust, it can deviate from the guidelines. In order to deviate from the guidelines, the Court must explain the reason for the deviation.
Let’s take another example – a 19 year old child. Her mother claims the child lives with her and files for child support against the father. The father claims that the child lives with her boyfriend. At the hearing, the child tells the Court she has a job, and sometimes stays with her mother, her father, her uncle, and her boyfriend. She has her personal items (such as toiletries) at each residence. How will the Court determine who has custody, and who pays child support?
In this situation, the answer is even more complicated, because the guidelines do not allow for a parent seeking custody to have less than 50% custody. So what is the Court to do? The Court could determine the mother has custody for 50% of the time and run the guidelines in that manner. But that assumes that the father has custody 50% of the time. If the father has custody for less than 50% of the time, there is no other way to run the guidelines. The Court can again choose to deviate from the guidelines and order a different amount of child support. The Court will have to articulate its findings and explain the reason for the deviation.
These hearings are trials with exhibits, witnesses, and arguments. It can be confusing and overwhelming to navigate. It’s important to be prepared for an extensive and long hearing when a child over 18 is the subject of a child support case.