Nancy S. Caplan, Esquire

Nancy S. Caplan, Esquire
Bend Don't Break- Mediate!

Pages

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Child Support Duty to 18-Year-Old Not Graduated From High School


In 2002, Maryland lawmakers revised the law extending the “age of majority” as it relates to child support, from 18 years old, to 18 years old and graduated from high school, but in any event, no longer than age 19. [i] Thus age 19, for child support purposes, is the outer limit of the “age of majority.” [ii]

What this means is that a child support payor-parent, must continue to support a child turning 18 up until the child graduates from high school, but not longer than that child’s 19th birthday. By way of example, if the child was born in November 1991, and was held back in a “pre-first” or similar program, then that child would have turned 18 in November of his or her senior year of high school. That child would be entitled to be supported through graduation from high school, or until age 18 and 7 months. By contrast, the child born in January 1991 who might have been held back in school for some reason would turn 19 in January of his or her senior year but child support would end there. The child support payee-parent would then be on his or her own to support the child without receiving continued child support from the child support payor-parent. Therefore practically speaking, parties currently negotiating separation or parenting agreements might contractually agree to extend the duration of child support if that situation is foreseeable in their families.

However what about the majority of child support provisions drafted before 2002 which reflect the 18 year old age of majority? Does this mean that those child support payee-parent and his or her now or soon to be 18 year old high school seniors are out-of-luck?

“No” says the Maryland Court of Special Appeals in Bornemann v. Bornemann..[iii] The Bornemann Court found unequivocally that the change of age of majority is to be applied retrospectively to child support orders entered into prior to the 2002.[iv] The Court also reasoned that amounts of future child support are not free from modification and therefore the parties’ contract relating to child support is never free from modification.[v] If one wonders why parties are not free to contract as they please relating to child support, the Bornemann Court explains that a parent may not waive a child’s support[vi], and that: “Child support payments vest on the due date of each payment. Rights concerning future child support liabilities, including termination of support, therefore , do not vest until the due date, and are subject to the continuing jurisdiction of the courts.” [vii]

Therefore parties having a pre-2002 child support agreement, where there are no material changes in income or expenses might want to avoid the cost, time and aggravation to fight against an extension of the duration of child support until the child turns 18 and is graduated from high school, but no longer than age 19. As stated in Bornemann: “The 2002 amendments…are effectively a self-executing material change of circumstances.”[viii] The party who does defend against this cause, may find him or herself paying attorneys’ fees and court costs for both parties for launching this non-defense.

So what does this mean as a practical matter? It means that a child support payee-parent living with a pre-2002 Amendment child support order must file an action in court to seek to modify the pre-2002 Amendment child support order. There is no “automatic” extension. It is up to the party seeking to modify a prior court order to re-open their case to revise the child support order, and as in every modification of child support must prove that there has been “a material change of circumstances,” but in this case, the “self-executing” material change is the 2002 Amendment. Thus it would seem that to get an extension of the existing child support obligation nothing more need be proven to the court.

So if the child support is $2,000.00/per month continuing until the child’s 18th birthday, and that child is in high school for another 6 months after turning 18, and the child support payee-parent is seeking the same $2,000.00/month for those 6 months, then he or she must file for modification in the Courts and nothing more need be proven. If the child support payor-parent seeks to defend against that extension of the same monthly child support amount, all other financial issues being the same, that parent runs the risk of paying the counsel fees for both parties if the defense is deemed to be unjustifiable.

This is different if one party seeks also to change the amount of child support he or she receives or pays (as the case may be,) then the modification of child support involves more than a simple extension of child support from the pre-2002 child support order through the child’s senior year (but no longer than age 19.) If seeking the modification of the amount of existing child support, the modifying party must prove a material change of circumstances warranting the change of the amount of child support. This involves proving income and expenses and is more complex than the “self-executing” material change of circumstances extending the duration of child support payments arising from the change in the law.

In conclusion if: 1.) A pre-2002 child support order terminating at age 18 exists, and 2.) If the child’s 18th birthday falls prior to graduation from high school, and 3.) If no modification of the sum of the child support is sought, then there should be little to fight about. The Maryland Legislature and the Maryland Courts have spoken. If modification of the sum of the child support is sought, upwards or downwards, by either party, the modifying party will have the burden of proving the material change of circumstances, and financial disclosures must be made to determine the income and expenses which permit the calculation of child support under the Maryland Child Support Guidelines.



[i] See 2002 Amendment to Md. Code, art. 1, §24
[ii] Absent special circumstances, for example, having an adult disabled child.
[iii] 931 A.2nd 1154, 175 Md. App. 716 (2007).
[iv] 931 A.2nd at 1158.
[v] Id. at 1161.
[vi] Id. at 1163 citing Stambaugh v. Child Support Enforcement Admin., 323 Md. 106, 591 A.2nd 501 (1991).
[vii] Id. at 1162.
[viii] Id. at 1164.