Massachusetts law about child support over age 18

A compilation of laws, cases and web sources on the child support for children over 18. Child support is paid by one parent to the other parent.

If you are unable to find the information you are looking for, or if you have a specific question, please contact our law librarians for assistance.

Table of Contents

Massachusetts laws

18-23 years old

MGL c.208, § 28 Care, custody, maintenance and support of minor children following divorce
The court may make appropriate orders of maintenance, support and education of any child who has attained age eighteen but who has not attained age twenty-one and who is domiciled in the home of a parent, and is principally dependent upon said parent for maintenance. The court may make appropriate orders of maintenance, support and education for any child who has attained age twenty-one but who has not attained age twenty-three, if such child is domiciled in the home of a parent, and is principally dependent upon said parent for maintenance due to the enrollment of such child in an educational program, excluding educational costs beyond an undergraduate degree.

MGL c.209, § 37 Orders for support and maintenance of children of separated parents

MGL c.209C, § 9 Orders for support: factors considered in determining amount for children born out of wedlock


Child Support Guidelines II.F. Child support for children between the ages of 18 and 23
The guidelines are the basis for deciding how much child support should be paid.

Child Support Guidelines II.G. Contribution to post-secondary educational expenses
By statute, the Court has discretion either to order or to decline to order a parent to contribute to post-secondary educational expenses.

"No parent shall be ordered to pay an amount in excess of fifty percent of the undergraduate, in-state resident costs of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, unless the Court enters written findings that a parent has the ability to pay a higher amount."


Selected cases

Barnes v. Devlin, 84 Mass. App. Ct. 159 (2013)
A father could not unilaterally stop paying child support under an agreed-upon separation agreement despite the question of whether the support conformed to the law. His "proper recourse, as the judge stated, would have been to initiate appropriate modification proceedings, as opposed to unilaterally stopping payments."

Cabot v. Cabot, 55 Mass. App. Ct. 756 (2002)
In limited circumstances, the Court has the authority to make an award of college expenses retroactive. 

Doe v. Roe, 23 Mass. App. Ct. 590 (1987)
Child born out of wedlock had same rights to support after age 18 from adjudicated father as children of divorced parents would have from their parents.

Eccleston v. Bankosky, 438 Mass. 428 (2003)
While MGL c.208, § 28 does not authorize a Probate and Family Court judge to order a divorced father to pay support after his child's eighteenth birthday to a third party appointed as his child's guardian, the judge does have authority under MGL c.215, § 6 (probate court equity jurisdiction) to determine whether the father should be required to support his daughter financially beyond her eighteenth birthday.

Kirwood v. Kirwood, 27 Mass. App. Ct. 1156 (1989)
This case sets out the test for determining whether or not to maintain, increase or cancel support after the age of majority by using specified criteria to decide whether or not the individual is "principally dependent" upon the parent with whom s/he resides.

Larson v. Larson, 28 Mass. App. Ct. 338 (Larson I) (1990); 30 Mass.App.Ct. 418 (Larson II) (1991)
In the first proceeding, court "declined to consider the question whether the child was emancipated as a matter of law upon attaining the age of eighteen, where the case had been tried on the theory that the matter would be resolved under the test for dependency set forth in G.L. c.208 sec. 28." In the second, the court retained jurisdiction over child support matters beyond the age of twenty-one.

LeBrecque v. Parsons, 74 Mass. App. Ct. 766 (2009)
The court found that “the child's status as an unmarried mother does not render her emancipated as matter of law.”

Mansur v. Vinal, Probate and Family Court, Essex Division (89D-2178), March 26, 2001, affirmed 59 Mass. App. Ct. 1101 (2003), further appellate review denied 440 Mass. 1106 (2003)
Where a father was obligated to support his son while the son engaged in a "full-time continuous course of study," but the son failed, withdrew or received incomplete grades in at least eight courses, the support obligation ended at the date of the son's originally anticipated graduation date.

McCarthy v. McCarthy, 36 Mass. App. Ct. 490 (1994)
The court held that the Probate Court exceeded their powers when they modified a marital separation agreement. The modification increased the amount of child support the husband was paying to include college expenses. The original separation agreement did not address the issue of college expenses of the children. It survived the divorce judgment and retained independent legal significance, and therefore more than a material change of circumstances would have to be established to alter the terms of the original agreement.

Sullivan v. Smith, 90 Mass. App. Ct. 743 (2016)
Appeals court upheld probate court order awarding child support to former guardian who filed a “Complaint in Equity for child support of unemancipated child previously under guardianship”, who was still living with her, principally dependent on her and planning to attend college.  

Tatar v. Schuker, 70 Mass. Appt. Ct. 436 (2009)
Under the child support law, a child is not automatically emancipated at 18. A judge does has the discretion to enter an order for child support that terminates when the child reaches 18, if, for example, it is unlikely that the child will continue to be dependent or live with the custodial parent when the child reaches age 18.

Vaida v. Vaida, 86 Mass. App. Ct. 601 (2014)
The Court can order child support after emancipation but only when an adult child is incapacitated and is under a guardianship under MGL c.215, § 6 (probate court equity jurisdiction).

Web sources

Child support for children 18-22, Mass. Legal Help, 2017.
Provides discussion of what a judge looks at when considering child support over the age of 18.

Ending a child support order, Mass Legal Help, 2013.
"If both parents do not agree the order has ended, then going to court to get a judge to decide may be the best thing to do. If both parents agree it may still be the best thing to ask the court to end the order."

Five key changes to Massachusetts child support guidelines, JD Supra, 2021.

Print sources

Family law and practice, 4th ed., (Mass. Practice v. 3), Thomson Reuters 2013 with supplement. Section 50.50 Expenses of College Education.   

Financial aspects of divorce in Massachusetts, MCLE, 2016. Chapter 9: Payment of children's college education.

Financing college education expenses in divorced and divorcing families, Boston Bar Association, 2010.

LexisNexis practice guide: Massachusetts family law, LexisNexis, annual. 
Chapter 7: Child support, Part VI: obtaining orders for child support and college education expenses for children between the ages of 18 and 23.

Massachusetts domestic relations, 5th ed., by John G. DiPiano et al., Lexis Publishing, 2012, with current supplement. v. 9, §§ 10-72 - 10-82.

Nolo’s essential guide to child custody and child support, 5th ed., Nolo, 2021. 
Chapter 3: the basics of child support; discusses child support and college expenses, Chapter 9: child support orders; discusses how long child support lasts.  Although not a Massachusetts-specific resource, this resource does offer a simple overview of child support. 


Last updated: November 2, 2022