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Opening Arguments

Hit the road, urchins

A lot of young people today seem reluctant to face the adult world. More and more failure-to-launch slackers are living longer and longer in Mom and Dad's basement -- I know, 'cause I saw it on Dr. Phil. And when public policy makers have a chance, they seemed determined to contribute to the problem -- consider Obamacare's decree that children can stay on their parents' insurance until they're 25. No Empty Nest for you, you weary urchin spawners.

Indiana, you should be glad to know is doing the right thing by going in the other direction:

INDIANAPOLIS — A new state law that drops the cutoff age for child support in Indiana is raising questions about how the courts may interpret it.

On July 1, the age of emancipation in Indiana moves from 21 to 19, automatically terminating child support payments for almost anyone who has turned 19.

Family law experts predict a period of confusion as judges, lawyers and families figure out how to apply the new law to existing child support orders and agreements.

[. . .]

The change in the age of emancipation brings Indiana closer in line with most states, which terminate child support obligations at the age of 18.  

Still, it signals a major shift in a philosophical argument over the obligations that a parent has to a child. Avery said the Indiana State Bar Association’s family law section didn’t take a position on the legislation, as it was making its way through the Indiana General Assembly, because family law attorneys in Indiana were so divided on it.

OK, sure, the change will be confusing -- whenever there's a new law, there's always doubt over what to do about people who have been abiding by the old law. And "there is come lack of clarity in the law," as one attorney complained;  but this is the General Assembly we're talking about -- what did you expect?

But that "major philosophical shift" is a big deal, though of course our lawmakers typically didn't have the guts to go all the way to 18 because of the handful of students who don't get out of high school until they're 19. At some point, society has the obligation to tell young people: "The previous generation has brought you along as far as it can; it's time for you to take charge of your own life." A consensus has developed that 18 is the proper age for emacipation, and it makes a lot of sense. High school is done (except for those few Hoosiers, of course) and that has become seen as the end of childhood in this country -- time to decide on going to college or entering the workforce or joining the Army. Not for hanging out in our parents' basement.

The story notes that a big reason this potential change has been talked about for the last 20 years is a perception of unfairness -- the fact that a noncustodial parent was required to take care of a child until age 21, while there is no such requirement for parents who are still married to each other. But there's one unfairness still there. There's an exemption for "educational support" for children over 19. So if you're still married, you can kick that kid out when he hits 19. But if you get divorced, you have still to foot his college bill. Why does the child of divorced parent have more of a right to a college education than the child of parents who  are still together?