Getting married and having children changes everything (as we have heard many a new groom and father say). Under our law, the duty to care for one’s spouse and children is always there. Absent an enforceable agreement to the contrary, one’s duty to support a spouse ends when the marriage does, by divorce or death. The support of children is different. One has the obligation to support one’s natural (or legally adopted) children even if one was never married to the other parent. And, of course, both parents share that obligation, but until when? Absent special circumstances, a child is considered an adult upon reaching 18 years of age or finishing high school, whichever occurs last.
Some may wonder whether or not one is obligated to pay for a child’s education beyond high school. Many years ago, and for quite some period of years, divorcing parents could be held responsible for such educational expenses. It finally dawned on our state Supreme Court that, “Hey, wait a minute! We don’t force married couples to pay for college, so where do we get off requiring divorced couples to finance higher education?” That ended that obligation. Of course, as part of a settlement, a divorcing couple can bind themselves to pay all or part of a child’s further education and they are free to do so on their own as well.
All that said, when Junior “fails to launch” after reaching 18 and finishing high school, parents may have a difficult if necessary decision to empty the nest…or not.