Under New York family law, the age of legal majority (a/k/a “emancipation”) differs depending on the issue at hand. For purposes of child custody and visitation, the age of majority is 18. However, child support is paid until age 21 and according to NY law, most non-custodial parents are required to contribute to support until their child reaches this age. Once a child has turned 21, parents are under no legal obligation to support the adult child unless the parents have specifically agreed otherwise in writing.
Child support is calculated based on a formula involving the number of unemancipated children and the parents’ combined annual income. The Court will add together the total combined income of the two parents and determine a percentage amount based on the number of children involved. The percentages of the total combined income for both parents are 17%, 25%, 29% and 31% for one, two, three and four children, respectively. When there are five or more children, the percentage will be no less than 35% of the total combined income. If the parents’ combined income exceeds a certain amount, Courts have discretion to make an award beyond the applicable percentage of the cap amount. The current income cap in NY is $141,000.
In the event of substantial change in circumstances, the non-custodial parent may petition the Court for a downward modification. Child support obligations cannot be legally modified without petitioning the Court, regardless of what the parents have agreed upon subsequent to the initial support order. There is no guarantee that the Court will reduce one’s child support obligation; the Court’s decision will be based on the financial circumstances of the parties and best interests of the child.
A parent who fails to pay child support risks penalties including suspension of a driver’s license or professional license as well as financial consequences including seizure of bank accounts. In the most egregious cases a delinquent payor can be incarcerated. For these reasons in particular, it is crucial that parents who find themselves in need of a modification seek legal advice in a proactive manner and file the appropriate petition in Court.