In Missouri, child support “abatement” is a process whereby a paying parent’s obligation to pay child support on a monthly basis tolls or stops, even temporarily. This most commonly occurs when the custodial parent voluntarily relinquishes custody of the child to the paying parent for a period in excess of thirty days. It can also commonly occur due to the custodial parent or minor child’s failure to fulfill certain statutory obligations which are required in order to entitle them to continue to receive child support after the child’s completion of high school.
Abatement is distinctly different from the concept of emancipation that we discussed in last week’s blog. Emancipation is a process whereby once a child support order is stopped due to the emancipation of a child it cannot be reinstated. If a child support obligation is abated it may be reinstated under certain circumstances.
The blog discussed those circumstances when a child support obligation can continue beyond a child’s high school graduation until the child’s twenty first (21st) birthday if the child remains enrolled in college, or the equivalent, and continues to make progress towards the completion of his or her course of study. However, even if a child complies with the educational requirements so that he is not emancipated prior to his or her twenty first (21st) birthday, the child must provide the paying parent with specific educational records showing their academic progress in order to entitle them to actually receive child support during this time period.
According to Missouri Revised Statute Section 452.340.5, in order a to remain eligible for continued support after a child enters a school of higher education after high school he must, at the beginning of each semester, provide each parent with a transcript or similar official document provided by the institution which includes the courses the child is enrolled in and has completed for each term or semester, the grades and credits for each such course and a transcript or similar official document listing the courses the child is enrolled in for the upcoming term and the number of credits for each of those courses.
If the child does not provide the necessary documentation to the paying parent, that parent may rightfully withhold payment until the child complies with his obligation. Further, your family court judge may find for the months the child did not comply the paying parent did not owe child support as his obligation “abated” during the period of non-compliance.
The issue of compliance or non-compliance with this statute has been heavily litigated by Missouri Family Law attorney’s. For example in 2008 in a case handled by my office, the Eastern District of the Missouri Court of Appeals held that a minor child who provides on-line records from his school to the paying parent has satisfied the notice requirement in the statute even though the documents provided were not in the form of a transcript. Further, it is well established case-law in Missouri that the custodial parent can satisfy the obligation of a minor child by providing the required documentation to the paying parent.
Consequently, prior to withholding child support payments, it is extremely advisable for any paying parent who finds themselves in this situation to consult with a family law attorney who is familiar Missouri case-law and how the particular judge who will hear the matter will likely treat the child’s potential non-compliance with Section 452.340.5. While case-law has brought the nuances of this law into clearer focus, your judge does still have some discretion to determine if the statute has been complied with when evidence would show that some records have been provided.
Therefore, if you are paying or receiving child support for a child who is college age it is important that you discuss the particulars of your situation with a knowledgeable family law attorney. Please contact our office today for a free consultation to discuss your family law matter.