The NBA has brought us a pulse-pounding history of slam-dunk wins, but for Virginia Dads, one slam dunk may turn you into Paul Pierce when Ron Artest pulled his pants down. Thinking you can stop paying child support when your kid turns 18? Not so fast.

The “Age of Majority” … Not a Slam Dunk

Bar room “lawyers” (your buddies who have had scrapes with the law; your thrice-married, twice-divorced friend; you?) will tell you that Virginia Code § 1-204 states Virginia’s “age of majority” is 18. This is true, so far as it goes.

Not every circumstance in real life aligns with a single law though. That same provision includes this statement:

“unless an exception is specifically provided in this Code,” which gives the legislators a convenient free-throw anytime anyone calls foul.

Exceptions for the age of majority abound in Virginia law. Keeping in mind that the overriding concern, legislative session after session, is to protect Virginia’s most vulnerable citizens above all, you can find carve-outs throughout the Code.

This means, contrary to what your brew buddy tells you, ending child support at age 18 is no slam dunk. Taking friends’ advice instead of listening to your family law attorney is a bad idea.

Special Needs & Special Circumstances

Virginia law allows two special circumstances that compel a parent to pay child support past the 18th birthday or high school graduation. The portion of the law containing these situations is written (as is typical of the legislature) in convoluted legalese. We will first offer a portion of the actual law, Code of Virginia § 20-124.2:

The court shall also order that support will continue to be paid for any child over the age of 18 who is (i) a full-time high school student, (ii) not self-supporting, and (iii) living in the home of the party seeking or receiving child support until such child reaches the age of 19 or graduates from high school, whichever first occurs.

And now, the translation:

You can be legally bound by the court to support your child if she or he meets three conditions:

  1. Your child is a full-time high school student, and
  2. Your child is not self-supporting, and
  3. Your child lives with the parent receiving or asking for child support payments

The other portion of the same section of law applies to special needs children. You can be ordered by the court to continue paying past the child’s 18th birthday if Jejune Jennifer or Little Larry is:

  1. severely and permanently mentally or physically disabled, and the disability existed before the child’s 18th birthday, or the age of 19 if the child met the requirements of the first three clauses above; and
  2. unable to live independently and support himself; and
  3. resides in the home of the parent seeking or receiving child support

Bear in mind, also, a special needs child can attend a Virginia public high school past 18; in fact, the Virginia Department of Education permits students as old as 22 to receive a free, appropriate public education (FAPE).

Willingly Paying Child Support Past Your Child’s 18th Birthday

Nothing in Virginia law prevents a Dad from providing child support past the child’s 18th birthday or high school graduation. Virginia Code § 20-124.2 includes this nugget:

“… the court may confirm a stipulation or agreement of the parties which extends a support obligation beyond when it would otherwise terminate as provided by law.”

Why would you want to do that? Parents have many reasons to legally formalize their continuing support for their own children. Suppose you and your ex-wife realize your child is academically gifted; college looms. You both agree to contribute to her undergraduate education through her senior college year.

Suppose your child needs help getting into a trade school. Your child has talents in music, the arts, or theatre; you are willing to pay for private lessons, acting coaches, or attendance at a conservatory.

By legally delineating what you are willing to provide, you protect yourself. The child does not have an indeterminate amount of time to “make good” on her or his dreams; you are not on the hook for decades to come. Your ex-wife knows her obligations, too, if they are spelled out by a family law attorney in a court-approved document.

The Right Thing to Do

Finally, and perhaps most subjectively, is the issue of “the right thing to do.” You and the child’s mother are the primary caregivers. You both know your child better than anyone. Is it morally right to end child support at the child’s 18th birthday?

You and the child’s mother brought the child into this world and are ultimately responsible for her or him. Divorce or separation does not stop your role as parent, as a Dad. As they say, “The first 40 years of parenthood are the hardest.”

Reach Out to Our Child Support Attorneys

Don’t take any chances. Contact The Firm For Men’s Virginia Beach office or call us at 757-383-9184 to speak with an attorney about child support, physical and legal child custody, and any other aspect of Virginia family law. We are ready to help keep you from incurring penalties that are a bit more severe than the ones dished out in the NBA.