At What Age Does Child Support Stop?
First published February 23rd, 2021 and updated July 9th, 2021
A common question that many separated or divorced parents often ask themselves is “at what age does child support stop” Or “can adult child maintenance payments be extended”.
In most cases, you don’t need to pay child support after the age of 18 or when your child finishes high school, although there are specific circumstances under the Family Law Act that enforce a parent to pay adult child support after the age of 18.
Child support is administered on a case by case basis, and each child support case is dependent on the individual circumstances. You may be asked to pay adult child support and maintenance after the age of 18 if the child requires ongoing financial support.
Reasons for child support to end can include, but not limited to:
- When the child has turned 18.
- If the child is in a de facto relationship or is married.
- If the parent paying child support moves to a country that has not agreed to assist with enforcing child support obligations.
- If the child is adopted.
- If the child dies.
- If the child is not living with either parent.
Pursuant to section 66L of the Family Law Act 1975 (Cth), the court must not make a maintenance order in relation to a child who is over the age of 18 unless the court is satisfied that the maintenance is necessary:
- To enable the child to complete his/her education; or
- Because of a mental or physical disability of the child.
Can I still get child support after my child turns 18?
Services Australia (Child Support Registrar) assesses the amount of child support payable by one parent to the other and, if requested, collects and transfers payments between the parties.
The paying parent’s obligation to pay child support ends when the child turns 18. However, if there is a Child Support Registrar assessment in place and your child turns 18 during their last year of school, the Child Support Registrar will contact you and ask you to apply to extend the assessment until your child completes their final year, which is usually in October or November depending on their exam schedule.
If your child continues to live at home after they turn 18, then the burden of meeting their expenses may fall on the parent they live with. The Child Support Registrar cannot assist you to assess or obtaining payments for your adult child (Adult Child Maintenance).
The first step is usually for you to discuss the matter with the other parent to see if you can reach an agreement regarding Adult Child Maintenance. If you reach an agreement, orders can be made by consent by the court.
If you cannot reach an agreement, either you or your child can apply for an Adult Child Maintenance order from the Family Court of Australia or the Federal Circuit Court of Australia.
You can apply when a child is 17 years old, for the order to apply once they turn 18, or wait until the child turns 18 years old.
How much Adult Child Maintenance you can apply for will depend on a number of factors, including:
- Your child’s “necessary expenses”, including but not limited to, food, housing, transport, education expenses and medical expenses but usually not entertainment expenses.
- Your financial position and the other parent’s financial position.
- The amount you and the other parent need to support not only yourself but anyone else you have a duty to support, for example, other children or a new partner.
Adult Child Maintenance can be applied for if the child:
Is completing tertiary education, including at university, TAFE, a private college and possibly an apprenticeship.
- Has a serious illness.
- Has a physical or mental disability.
Orders for child maintenance payments will usually end once the child’s study is complete, once a child no longer has a particular illness or disability or after a specified period of time to review the child’s illness or disability.
Cumpton & Rainford and Adult Child Maintenance
The recent case of Cumpton & Rainford  FCCA 3441 illustrates the court’s approach when dealing with applications of this nature.
Background In This Case:
- The parents were married in 1996.
- Had two adult children born in 1998 and 2000 respectively.
- Separated on 19 May 2016.
- The parties entered into a Financial Agreement on 4 November 2016 (discussed further later).
- Mr Cumpton did not work as he was the full-time carer of one of the adult children of the relationship.
- Ms Rainford earned approximately $70,000.
The case concerned an application from Mr Cumpton for adult child maintenance in respect of the eldest child. The court determined that Mr Crumpton had the necessary standing to make the application pursuant to section 66F(1)(a) of the Family Law Act, given he was the father of the child. The court was then required to turn its attention to the maintenance application itself.
Adult Child Support & Financial Agreement
Ms Rainford contended that Mr Cumpton’s application should be dismissed on the basis that the parties had entered into a financial agreement that precluded them from bringing maintenance applications against one another. In support of her argument, Ms Rainford relied on paragraph 5.4 of the agreement, which stated:
“5.4. We both wish to enter this Agreement to settle all claims now and in the future for any maintenance, property, financial resources and other financial matters including any claims that may be made under Part VII or any other relevant provision of the Family Law Act.”
In response to this, Mr Cumpton argued that section 90E of the Family Law Aw was applicable. Section 90E states that:
“A provision of a financial agreement that relates to the maintenance of a spouse party to the agreement or a child or children is void unless the provision specifies:
- the party, or the child or children, for whose maintenance provision is made; and
- the amount provided for, or the value of the portion of the relevant property attributable to, the maintenance of the party, or of the child or each child, as the case may be.”
Mr Cumpton argued that paragraph 5.4 of the Financial Agreement was void, in so far as it referred to maintenance, as it did not specify the name of the child, nor did it specify the name of any other person.
Mr Cumpton’s position was ultimately accepted by the court.
Adult Child Maintenance Considerations
The court then turned its mind to the question of adult child maintenance.
The child for whom the maintenance was sought was born with significant disabilities, being drug-resistant epilepsy and severe intellectual impairment. Following separation, the child remained living primarily with the father. The court accepted the father’s evidence that the child was completely dependent on the father for the majority of her day to day needs.
The making of an adult child maintenance order is a matter of discretion, even if the applicant is able to establish the requisite criteria of section 66L. In determining if an application is “necessary,” the guiding principle for the court is what, in all circumstances, is reasonable (Cosgrove & Cosgrove (No 2)  FamCA 155).
The court determined that the reasonable weekly living expenses of the child were $296.35 and that the items encompassed in this sum were necessary. Noting Section 66B(2)(b) of the Family Law Act, that the act required parents to contributed ‘equitably’ rather than ‘equally’ to support their children, the court made an order that Ms Rainford pays Mr Cumpton $120 per week for the care of the child.
Why does this matter to me?
The case of Cumpton & Rainford provides an illustration of the approach the court will take in determining applications of adult child maintenance and the importance of ensuring that financial agreements are drafted correctly. Had the original agreement been drafted differently, Mr Cumpton may not have been successful in his application.
For extended child support payments, the courts will look at the financial circumstances of both parents and assess what financial support each parent is responsible for. For example, the courts will consider whether:
- Each parent has additional children to support.
- Whether each parent has the financial capacity to pay adult child maintenance.
- The application is an acceptable outcome for both parents.
How Can a Family Lawyer Help?
It’s essential to make sure your child is getting the financial support needed so they can continue to move forward and live an independent life. A family law and child support expert will be able to provide advice on all aspects of family law in relation to adult child support. At Sage Lawyers, our team of experienced lawyers can help you to make the best assessment for the future of your child.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I pay child support if my child is at school after 18 years of age?
If your child has turned 18 and is still at high school, you may need to continue paying child support if the other parent applies for an extension until the child completes year 12.
Can I make alternative child support payments with the other parent?
You are not required to enter into a child support administrative assessment and the parents can have alternative arrangements. Under these circumstances, it’s best to have any arrangements in writing and registered with the department of health services.
Is a disability support pension affected if someone is receiving adult child maintenance?
If a child with disabilities is over 18 and is on Youth Allowance payments or DHS payment, they are still eligible to claim adult child maintenance.
If a child over the age of 18 is at TAFE or University, are they still eligible to receive adult child support?
If your child is over 18 and cannot support themselves because they are completing their education, there are a range of tertiary education courses at TAFE, university, and private colleges that meet the eligibility criteria for extended adult child support.