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Is a Parent Required to Pay Child Support for a Disabled Adult Child?

  • Aug 01, 2021
  • The Harr Law Firm

Mother holding daughter with Downs syndrome outdoorsThough child support law can be incredibly complex and confusing, there’s one general rule that most people understand: Child support ends when the child turns 18. While that’s true in most cases, there is one situation in which that rule might not apply. If the child is disabled in some way that requires them to receive continued support and care from their parent, the non-custodial parent may have to continue making support payments to help pay for the disabled individual’s care, even after they come of age. Here’s what you need to know about these unique circumstances.

The Rulings Are Not Always Consistent

It’s important to know early on that the rulings on this matter are not always consistent. Today, the majority of courts do uphold that a parent has a duty to support an adult child who is unable to support themselves. However, there are a few courts around the country that still rule a parent has no such responsibility after the child turns 18.

This mostly varies by state, as some states do not have a statute on the books that specifically imposes this duty on a non-custodial parent, and so the state’s courts don’t feel they have the authority to order child support in these situations. It’s important to get familiar with your state’s laws on these matters and examine them carefully if you hope to continue receiving child support payments for a disabled child after they turn 18.

Based on Your Child’s Ability to Find Adequate Income

Your child’s ability to support themselves is the most important factor in determining whether or not you could continue receiving child support payments after they come of age. Courts will only order continued child support if your child is genuinely unable to support themselves in any way, rather than simply being unwilling to support themselves. However, most courts are less concerned with your child’s specific disability than they are with your child having the means and income capacity to support themselves.

For example, if your child has a disability that completely inhibits them from working, but they received a large inheritance from a grandparent that provides them with adequate income after they turn 18, you may not qualify to continue receiving child support payments. However, if a child has a disability that doesn’t allow them to receive sufficient income, and they have no other resources available to them, you may be awarded continued payments for their care.

The Onset of the Disability Matters

In some cases, a child over the age of 18 can sustain an injury or develop an illness that renders them suddenly unable to support themselves. If this occurs, you’re far less likely to be able to sue for renewed child support payments for your adult child’s care. Most courts who have considered this question have ruled that an adult child must have incurred their disability prior to turning 18 in order for the noncustodial parent to be responsible for such payments.

However, in some cases, you could continue receiving support payments if your child has not been emancipated. The exact time and definition of emancipation can vary state to state, though most view 18 to be the natural age of emancipation. The exception to this is if your child is still attending high school when they turn 18; some state statutes will move the age of emancipation to 19 or even 21 if the child is still attending any type of school. If your child becomes disable prior to their emancipation, they would likely continue to be treated as not being emancipated due to their inability to support themselves independently, and you may qualify for continued child support.

The Impact of Public Benefit Payments

Many disabled children (both adults and minors) receive some form of public benefits in relation to their disability. The major question in terms of child support is whether or not these benefits can be taken into account when calculating child support payments. The answer to this often depends on the type of benefit your child is receiving. Here’s a breakdown of the most common types and whether or not they typically impact child support payments:

  • Social Security – If a child is receiving either Social Security Disability Income or Social Security as a dependent child, the amount they receive will usually be taken into consideration when calculating any additional child support payments due.
  • Supplemental Security Income – SSI is treated differently than Social Security income, and is not usually used to offset any child support payment amount.
  • Trusts and Trust Assets – This can vary depending on the type of trust. For most special needs trusts, the amount your child receives from their trust won’t reduce child support payments. However, for other types of trusts, the benefit amount often will reduce your support.

As you’ve probably realized, these situations are complex and have many factors that can impact the outcome of your case. If you have a disable adult child and hope to continue receiving child support payments, contact us. We’ll review your case and work with you to determine of ongoing support is a possibility for you.