Although the details vary from one state to another, child support payments generally end when the child legally becomes an adult, because, at that point, they are deemed to be financially responsible for themselves. In most cases, this occurs when the child reaches the state defined age of majority. In California, this is currently age 18.
However, the point at which a child is deemed responsible for themselves can be either earlier or later than the age of majority, and this can change the end date for child support payments. There are circumstances under which a child can be emancipated. This means the child is empowered to live as an adult and the parents are no longer responsible. Two of the most common ways this happens before the age of majority is when a child enlists in the military or gets married.
On the other hand, in some states, child support payments may continue after the age of majority. Some states or individually negotiated support agreements will extend child support to help cover the cost of post-secondary education. Additionally, child support payments may be extended to help care for a child with a disability or special needs.
Many parents do not understand that the obligation to pay child support does not end automatically. It is therefore a mistake to assume that it is okay to stop paying at some particular time, such as on the child's 18th birthday or upon their graduation from high school. In order to make sure they are in compliance with the law, parents should either contact their state's child support agency to help determine the correct end date of their obligation or speak with an attorney to discuss the specifics of their case.