One of the most common questions we get is – when does child support end? A recent New Hampshire Supreme Court case shows how different states will answer this question much differently. The couple in question — Glenda and Frank Ball — were divorced in Massachusetts in 2005. Under Massachusetts law, Frank was required to pay child support as long the children were enrolled in college for as late as their 23rd birthday. This is much different than New Hampshire law, where child support is required until a child turns 18 or graduates high school, but no later than that.
In 2008 both Glenda and Frank moved to New Hampshire and they registered the Massachusetts order in a New Hampshire court. This frequently occurs when people move to different states so that they can have their order from one state enforced in the state they moved into. This time, though, in addition to registering the Massachusetts order, Glenda and Frank took an extra step and asked the New Hampshire court to make a modification in the order. When they did that, they agreed that New Hampshire law would now dictate when the child support would end. Instead of lasting through the children’s college years, they now agreed that it would end when they graduated high school or turned 18.
When that time, came, however, Glenda apparently no longer agreed and said Frank should keep paying as the Massachusetts court had originally ordered. She argued that even though there had been an agreement in the New Hampshire court, that agreement was invalid because the New Hampshire courts had no authority to modify a Massachusetts child support order. The New Hampshire Supreme Court, however, rejected this argument, ruling that, although Glenda was correct about the New Hampshire court’s lack of authority to change a Massachusetts child support order, she waived her right to contest the change by never challenging it at the time — and, in fact, agreeing to it.
There are a couple of morals to this case. One is that the state in which you get divorced in can make a big difference in certain terms of the divorce, such when child support ends. While in many cases a person getting divorced will have no choice about the state in which to file, sometimes there is a choice — such as when the spouses live in different states. If there is a choice to be made, it pays to carefully research, with the help of an experienced lawyer, which state’s laws are more favorable to your particular situation.
The second lesson is to be very careful what you agree to. Here Glenda seemed to cavalierly agree to the change in when child support would end without fully thinking out the long term consequences. She had no obligation to make that agreement and if she had not, the termination date for child support could not have been changed. Since she did agree, however, she lost the right to fight it and so she lost years worth of child support. If in doubt, always consult an experienced family law attorney before agreeing to any key provisions to a divorce or modification.