How long do I have to pay child support for my children?

One of the most recurring questions asked by parents who are obligated to pay child support is: How long do I have to pay?

The first answer, which answers 70% of the parents who ask that question is: child support does NOT end when a child becomes a legal adult. This would be an objective fact which would help parents determine exactly when their obligation ends, however, the reality for an 18 year old in this day and age is that they are usually far from being financially independent, unless they are a sports or TV star.

The second answer is: when your child becomes financially independent. This is the general criterion, in addition to the death of the person obligated to provide support or the death of the one who is entitled to receive it, however Article 152 of the Spanish Civil Code establishes two cases that occur more and more often in our society: (i) the obligee may practice a trade or profession in such a way that a maintenance allowance (child support) is not necessary, or (ii) when the need for the child support comes from the obligee’s misconduct or lack of effort to work.

The application of these last two cases is becoming more and more frequent where children over 23 years of age do not have an occupation or income which creates uncertainty for the parent who is forced to pay support but does not know the extent of their obligation. As we already mentioned, parents’ obligation does not end at the age of majority but continues on while the professional or academic training of their children continues. If this training reaches university levels, it can be extended up to age 23 and subsequently two or three years more if a postgraduate or master’s degree is pursued. Payment of child support does not usually continue after age 25-26, except in cases where the child has some type of disability that hinders or prevents them from accessing employment.

Recently, the Provincial Court of Albacete terminated the support payments a father paid to his 24 year old daughter due to a “lack of academic achievement” in her studies since, at her age, she spent the last three school years in the second year of Bachillerato [Spanish equivalent to senior year in high school] and did not pass a single subject. The ruling argues that “it is not acceptable for the father to be obligated to make the financial sacrifice of paying support payments and his daughter not spend her time properly learning in order to obtain a standard of living that enables her to become independent”.

In short, there is no single answer to the question asked but it depends on each case, although as main ideas we can conclude the following:

Child support does not end by the mere fact of reaching the age of majority.
Child support continues while your child is being trained academically, and:
It is possible to stop child support when, being a legal adult, the child does not become financially independent due to their conduct or a lack of effort to work.

Finally, it is important to know the parent that is obligated to pay child support cannot unilaterally decide to terminate it, but an agreement between the parties must be reached, put in writing, and signed by the adult child and parent that was receiving the support or, in case of a dispute, legal proceedings must be initiated and support cannot be terminated until a ruling is handed down.