Providing child support for adult children with special needs
In a divorce in which the spouses have a child with special needs related to physical or mental impairments, the divorce decree may provide for child support for that child into adulthood, if appropriate
Legal adulthood and exception for disabled person
Florida law provides that when a person reaches 18 years old, they are a legal adult, with some narrow exceptions. One of those listed exceptions is that a Florida court may order support payments if an adult person is dependent because of “mental or physical incapacity which began prior to such person reaching majority …”
Another Florida statute says that child support normally ends when the child turns 18 or becomes an adult through another legal mechanism, but not if “otherwise ordered by the court or agreed to by the parties …”
Settlement or judge determination
First, divorcing parents of a disabled child may negotiate a settlement agreement for incorporation into the divorce decree that provides for child support for the disabled child into adulthood. Such an agreement must be carefully thought out as to details. For example, if one parent is likely to provide care in their home for the child into their adulthood, the parent may want to take caution to word the agreement in a way that child support will continue into adulthood as necessary to support the disabled adult child if the disabling conditions are long term or permanent.
Another issue to consider is what the impact of those support payments might be on eligibility for government benefit programs for which the adult child may be eligible and whether that impacts the advisability of adult child support.
Similarly, if the parties do not settle the issue of child support for an adult disabled dependent child in an agreement, the court will decide the issue. The parent concerned about receiving child support for the child after age 18 must be sure to submit evidence of the medical condition and related expenses to educate the judge about the need for ongoing support into adulthood.
Establishing that the child’s disability was present prior to adulthood may also be important in any future return to court to ask for extension of child support later into adulthood.