Fox Family Lawyers
Cynthia Moseley Fox
Attorney at Law
7751 Carondelet Avenue,
Suite 700
Clayton, Missouri 63105
(St. Louis)
314.727.4880

New Law Lowering Age Child Support Ends Will Likely Invalidate Existing Decrees

I still receive mail concerning Missouri Senate Bill 25, passed earlier this year and effective as of August 28th, which lowered the age when child support need no longer be paid for a child still in school from 22 to 21.

 

“Maureen” writes: I enjoy your articles in the local paper. My ex also has read the paper and told me that he no longer has to pay support because of the new law. Our daughter turned 21 on September 27th. He thinks his obligation has ended. Does our decree, which states he must pay until age 22, overrule the new law?”

 

Maureen, I am sorry to have to say this but your former husband is likely correct. However, you should consult with a qualified attorney who can review your decree and provide you an informed assessment.

 

Attentive readers will recognize that my conclusion here contradicts with what I wrote in an earlier column when I said the following: “I suspect the courts will rule that the new limit applies unless age 22 was specifically identified in the original court order as the termination point.”

 

I must admit that my prior assessment was written more with my heart than my head and without having researched the ample case law that exists in this area.

 

Although divorce decrees spelling out the terms of the divorce, including the payment of child support, are often the result of extended negotiations between spouses, they are not considered legal contracts and not subject to enforcement under contract law. They are simply a written order of the court. As such, there is no basis for one spouse to take the other to court and compel that spouse to continue paying until age 22 because they had “contracted” to do that in the decree.

 

This is not the first time in recent history that the legislature has changed the age by which child support terminates. In 1988, the age of emancipation was lowered from age 21 to 18, with an exception for children still in school, raising the age at which support ends to age 22. In a slew of cases at the time, the Missouri Court of Appeals held consistently that the new statute trumped whatever age was specified in divorce decrees and should be applied.

 

I see no reason why that will not be the case again this time around.

 

Another reader, “Mike”, wrote asking if it is difficult to request that child support payments be sent to the child. He says that his daughter is a freshman in college and it would be “very helpful” if she had the money sent directly to her.

 

This could be done easily presuming Mike has his ex-wife’s agreement. If so, they should jointly file a motion to modify their existing decree. The court is likely to concur unless it finds the daughter incapable of handling the funds.

 

However, if mom opposes this idea, the court will almost certainly turn dad down. Child support is intended to compensate the custodial parent for the expenses he/she incurs in raising that child, such as for food, shelter and clothing. It is a reimbursement of parental expenses and not an “allowance” for the child.

 

College expenses for tuition, books, room & board are sometimes included in the support calculation, but more often are paid by each parent separately in an agreed-to allocation. Each parent pays their designated proportion directly to the school.

 

Frankly, Mike, I am having a hard time imagining how your support obligation is fulfilled by sending the funds to your daughter. It is mom (or the school) that is the rightful recipient. Of course, nothing prevents you from sending her a few extra bucks on the side, but it’s not “child support” as the law defines that term.