Cincinnati Family Law & Divorce Blog: Do Parents Have Legal Obligations to Emancipated Children?

While it is true that Ohio Courts are prohibited from issuing orders regarding the care and support of children after they turn 18 or graduate from high school, whichever occurs later, the Court can enforce agreements that parents make with one another.


Many parents recognize that their children will need continued support beyond 18 and want to ensure that these expectations are clearly outlined and discussed in a divorce settlement. It is especially important to consider the following obligations during your negotiation:  child support for children with disabilities, maintenance of health insurance, dependency deductions, and the payment of college education.  If parents agree on these items and include the agreements as part of the divorce or dissolution decree, the agreements will be enforced by the court.


Child Support for Children With Disabilities

Monthly child support terminates when a child is 18 or graduates from high school except in the circumstance of a child with a significant disability who will be unable to provide for himself.   Provisions regarding extended child support are extremely intricate and must consider the impact the payment of support has on other benefits the child may receive such as social security and Medicaid.  It is often important to consult a social security attorney as well as a divorce attorney when negotiating support for a child with a disability.  The Court has jurisdiction to enter orders and enforce orders for child support beyond 18 when it’s found that the child has a disability and is unable to self-support.


Health Insurance

Another issue that became more relevant upon the passing of the Affordable Care Act is an agreement to maintain health insurance for adult children so long as it is permitted by law.  Currently, children can be covered by a parent’s health insurance plan until age 26.  Although this is permitted by the federal law, a divorce court cannot order parents to do so unless the parents have reached this agreement prior to the child(ren) turning 18.  This must be included in the parties’ divorce decree.


Dependency Deduction

The same is true for claiming a child as a dependent for tax purposes.  The IRS allows this deduction for adult children that have 50% of their support being provided by a parent (usually where the college student is living in the summer).  If there is no agreement to alternate the dependency deduction then the IRS rules apply, even though the parents may both be contributing to the support of the child.



A main talking point in many cases is a parent’s obligation to pay for college.  Parents can structure an obligation to pay for college in various ways.  Some choose to contribute to a college savings account monthly or yearly, while others agree to pay a percentage of tuition and/or room and board at the time their child ultimately attends.  In either scenario, it is important to account for contingencies that may make these obligations impossible to meet in the future, such as a disability or unemployment of one of the parents. This question looks very different for parents whose children are teenagers and approaching college in the immediate future than those parents with small children and many years of uncertainty before college is on the forefront.   You should discuss college provisions with a lawyer and ensure that you understand all of the risks and benefits of including such a provision in a final court order.  Of course, parents can pay for college without a court order and some parents prefer this route, especially when the parents share similar values about the payment of college.