By: Pamela Edwards-Swift, Certified Family Law Specialist
Upon occasion I will have someone come into my office regarding child support for a child who has graduated from high school and is 18 years old. They want child support to continue because the child is still living at home and is in college. Usually, I am told the child has a full school schedule and is unable to support themselves. They want child support to continue. With these particular facts, child support is not available. As parents, we may be morally obligated to help our children through college, but there is no legal obligation to do so. As a result, although one parent may be helping the child, the other parent does not have to do so.
There is, however, a situation when parents are legally obligated to support their adult child. That is when the child is mentally and/or physically disabled and therefore, unable to support themselves. In such a situation, child support continues for the life of the child.
This type of situation arises often. A child reaches the age of 18 and the non-custodial parent quits paying child support. If the judgment is silent to the fact that the child is disabled, then it is necessary to go to court to have the court order the child support. Recently, I had such a case involving a quadriplegic child. The non-custodial parent, in this case the father, didn’t think it was fair that he had to continue to pay child support. The man, surprisingly represented by an attorney, tried to argue that he should not have to continue to pay child support because his son was 18. Needless to say, the father’s argument did not go over well with the court, especially, when the son appeared in court in his wheel chair. Not only did child support continue, but it was raised. Had the father just kept paying the original court ordered child support, no one would have gone to court, and the support order would have remained the same.
What if you have a disabled adult child and you are in the process of getting a divorce? The court forms only refer to “minor” children. You still need to bring the issue of support of this child to the attention of the court in either the Petition or the Response. The court can only make orders over matter upon which the other party has received notice.
In today’s world of increasing cases of autism, I am seeing more cases on this issue. Whether or not child support will continue for an autistic child depends upon the severity of the autism. If the condition affects the child’s ability to support themselves, then support will continue.