Saturday, January 16, 2010
So how long does child support have to be paid in Utah?
Utah Code § 15-2-1 (Period of minority) provides:
The period of minority extends in males and females to the age of eighteen years; but all minors obtain their majority by marriage. It is further provided that courts in divorce actions may order support to age 21.
Special findings of mental or physical disability are sufficient to warrant extension of child support beyond age eighteen. See Jackman v. Jackman, 696 P.2d 1191, 1192-93 (Utah 1985); Dehm v. Dehm, 545 P.2d 525, 527 (Utah 1976).
Moreover, orders extending child support until the anticipated date of high school graduation are upheld. See, e.g., Thornblad v.Thornblad, 849 P.2d 1197, at 1199 (Utah Ct. App.1993).
The courts can also enforce an agreement by the parties in a divorce action to continue support beyond that allowed by statutory law. See Despain v. Despain, 627 P.2d 526, 528 (Utah 1981); see also Balls v. Hackley, 745 P.2d 836, 837-38 (Utah Ct.App.1987) (affirming trial court's enforcement of parties' stipulation that child support would continue after eighteen years under specified circumstances).
However, in Kerr v. Kerr (610 P.2d 1380 (Utah 1980)), the husband was only required to pay child support until the minor child's 18th birthday, at which time if support was still needed, wife could petition for continuation of support based on circumstances existing at that time. Since the child’s 18th birthday was at the time of trial more than three years in the future, the court could not know and therefore could not find what his specific needs would be at age 18 or beyond.
Purpose of statute authorizing court in a divorce action to order support of child to age 21 is to give court latitude in determining whether exigent circumstances exist necessitating further support of dependent child rather than allowing him to become dependent on state. Court in a divorce proceeding has power to order continued support for child until age 21 when it appears to be necessary and when court makes findings of any special or unusual circumstances to justify order. Harris v. Harris, 585 P.2d 435 (Utah 1978).