In North Carolina, the emancipation of a child occurs when the child turns 18, or if the child is in high school, when the child turns 20 or graduates from high school, whichever is first. Emancipation means a stage when the child becomes free from parental control and the parents are not responsible for the child’s actions. Generally, a parent is legally obligated to support his children only through their minority. But the majority of states have by legislation or court decision extended the parents’ obligation to the adult children or non-minor children who are incapacitated to the extent that they are unable to be self-supporting. Some jurisdictions have laws for parental support for teenage children who have not completed high school.
Legally, the change from minority to majority means that legal disabilities designed to protect the child are removed. The authority of the court to order support for a normal child ceases when the legal obligation to support no longer exists. Upon emancipation, the parents’ duty to support and the right to control and to receive its wages cease. The custody of minor children during their infancy cannot be controlled finally. Neither the parents nor the infant have/has any vested right in a support order which would extend the payments beyond the age of emancipation.
In North Carolina, the rights of a person who is mentally or physically not capable of self-support upon reaching his/her majority are same as a minor child for so long as he/she remains mentally or physically incapable of self-support. See N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-13.8.
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-13.8 states that a father’s legal obligation to support his child ceases when the child reaches the age of 18, provided that it is not shown that the child is insolvent, unmarried, and physically or mentally incapable of earning a livelihood. In the absence of an enforceable contract otherwise obligating a parent, North Carolina courts have no authority to order child support for children who have attained the age of majority unless the child has not completed secondary schooling, or, pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-13.8, the child is mentally or physically incapable of self-support.
The court should consider all reasonable and necessary factors, including:
- the financial resources of both parents;
- the standard of living the child would have enjoyed had the marriage not been dissolved;
- the resources of the child; and
- the child’s academic performance while determining the support under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 50-13.8.
The obligation to support such a child ceases only when the necessity for the support ceases.
The opportunity to receive post-minority support is not limited to children whose parents are divorced. The orders of post-minority support may be imposed on noncustodial parents where the parents have never married each other or have legally separated.
Even though the adult children are not under the control of the parents, a parent can give the necessary consent for a surgical operation on an adult child where the operation is an emergency one, and the child is incapacitated to consent.