In general, Child support in South Carolina typically ends when the child turns 18, graduates from high school or meets other criteria for elimination of child support. However, there are instances when the child support cutoff age can be extended. If the child is still in high school at age 18, support is in place until the child graduates or turns 19.
In addition, support responsibility may be extended if a divorce decree specifies conditions of change. It may be necessary to file a court motion to have your child support obligation terminated.
Child Support Before Age 18
In the State of South Carolina, a person is not considered an adult until they turn 18, the “age of majority.” Child support is generally paid until that point. At age 18, an individual is considered able to make legal decisions for themselves. While it may be an outlier, there are specific cases when a child may be emancipated before the legal adult age and child support is no longer mandated.
Instances of child support stopped before age 18:
Child support is no longer needed when the parent doesn't need to provide essentials of life, including food, clothing, shelter, education, and healthcare. That may occur ahead of the child's 18th birthday in the instances below.
- Marriage: A person can get married at age 16 in South Carolina with the permission of at least one parent or guardian.
- Military: Individuals generally are able to enlist in a branch of the military when they are 18. However, they can join at age 17 with parental consent.
- Moving: The child moves out of the parent's home to provide their own way economically.
Child Support Beyond 18
In other situations, your child support obligation may extend beyond the child's 18th birthday. This includes the above-mentioned scenario where the child doesn't graduate high school until they are 19. Other scenarios of extended child support include:
- College: The divorce decree may mandate child support as long as the child is enrolled in college, a trade school, or another form of higher education. South Carolina courts may also mandate a parent to contribute to a child's college tuition or other education-related expenses.
- Disability: It's often the case that courts will extend the child support obligation if the child is special needs or has a disability.
Unless your divorce decree specifies child support payments beyond age 18, or your child meets one of the extension qualifiers, you will likely conclude support payments when the child turns 18.
When Do You Need to Petition the Court to End Child Support in South Carolina?
If child support is paid directly from one parent to the other, then the paying parent can stop making payment when their obligation ends. If this situation applies to you, be careful not to stop paying too soon. Also be cognizant that if you are supporting other minor children, you will still owe an obligation for them. Whatever the divorce decree says is equivalent to a court order, and it must be followed if you do not want to wind up in legal trouble.
If you pay child support through the court or clerk's office, you may need to petition the court to terminate your obligation to pay. You can request to stop your child support payments because your child is emancipated (e.g., your child has turned 18, is married, becomes self-supporting, etc.). Emancipation is defined by S.C. Code Ann. § 63-3-530(17).You must provide the Court with proof of emancipation, which may include a birth certificate, marriage license, graduation commencement program, etc.
NOTE: In some counties you may have to file a “Motion and Affidavit in Support of Termination of Child Support Based on Emancipation” (SCCA440) along with the documentation. This form is available on the South Carolina Judicial Department's website, www.sccourts.org.
If the emancipated child is your only child or your youngest child, many clerk's offices will allow you to show their birth certificate and high school diploma to prove the child is emancipated and your child support account should be closed. However, if you still have other minor children you are supporting even after your support for the emancipated child should end, you will have to file an action with the Court to reduce your child support based on that fact. It's not as easy as simply cutting your payments in half or dividing by some other percentage. If you do that without a modification action, the clerk's office will reflect a child support arrearage on your account.
If your child support was initially set by DSS, they will allow a review of your obligation every 3 years. If the end of that period coincides with the year of emancipation for one of your children, you can contact them to review your account and make the necessary adjustments to your support obligation.
The court does not have the resources to keep track of when child support obligations expire, and it is up to you to bring this to their attention. This is particularly important if a portion of your paycheck is being withheld to pay support. Otherwise, they will continue to deduct this amount from your wages until you take action to stop it.
Back Child Support or Arrears in South Carolina
Does back child support go away when a child turns 18? The answer is no. The only person who can compromise or forgive the amount owed in back support is the person to whom the money is owed. Usually, that is the custodial parent, but in some cases, where the person may have been receiving governmental assistance or benefits, part of the arrears may also be owed to the state. In other words, there will be child support arrearages accrued, and some of the money is owed to the parent and some of the money may be owed to the state.
The parent to whom the money is owed can agree to compromise that amount of money or waive it. The state to whom a portion of the money is owed, can agree to compromise that amount of money or waive it. The court cannot enter an order making the state or the parent to whom the money is owed to give it up or waive it. Any such waiver or compromise must be by agreement of all of the necessary parties.
The way these cases typically get resolved is by a stipulation and order where the person who owes the money, makes an offer in compromise to be forgiven any remaining balance of the arrearages owed. That is to be encouraged because it gets a portion of the money to the parent who is owed the money, waives the balance owed and stops the interest being charged on the unpaid balance.
Enforcing Child Support Arrears or Back Payments
If you have not received the child support that you are due, you may pursue enforcement. You may request a show cause proceeding. It requires the payer to explain why they should not be held in contempt of court for failing to make the required payments.
There are several enforcement avenues that may be available, including:
- Intercepting pay from work
- Liens on bank accounts and tax refunds
- Collecting from unemployment, workers' compensation, or social security
- Driver's license suspension
- Passport denial
- Suspension of a professional license
- Jail time
Ultimately, the goal of your legal action is to collect the funds that your family relies upon. Having a lawyer represent you gives you a professional to examine the situation, pursue sources of income, and present a clear case to the court to ask for assistance in collecting the amounts owed.
Can a Parent Withhold Visitation for Unpaid Child Support in South Carolina?
No. A parent cannot withhold visitation because child support is unpaid. The courts look at visitation and child support as two separate issues. A parent may take action to collect support, but they may not withhold the child because the other parent is behind on support.
Have Questions about South Carolina Child Support?
There are so many tools for collecting child support, and there are also many consequences to not paying child support. You may feel hopeless, but you have many options available to you. If you are at a loss for what to do, speak with an attorney to go over your options.
If you have questions about child support and are looking for a family law attorney in Charleston, Myrtle Beach, or Pawleys Island, South Carolina give Hopkins Law Firm a call at (843) 314-4202 or send us a message by completing this form.