Raising a child under any circumstances can be both fulfilling and taxing. Parents constantly worry about their children and want to ensure they are taken care of in every way. When a child has special needs, it may cause his or her parents increased anxiety regarding the child’s wellbeing. If the parents of a special needs child are not raising the child together, who will provide financial support for the child can be a particularly stressful source of concern.
Support Past the Age of Majority
Courts usually recognize an exception to the rule that child support ends when the child reaches the age of majority if the child has special needs.
In most cases involving child support, any support order issued by a court will impose the support obligation until the child reaches the age of majority or graduates from high school. In some cases, a court may impose an obligation on one parent to provide for the cost of college education, but the obligation is not imposed for an indeterminate duration, and will usually end either when a child reaches a certain age or has attended college for a certain amount of years. Where the child involved in a child support case has special needs, however, it is possible a court will impose a support obligation for a time that extends well after the child becomes an adult.
As in all child support cases, if the parents can come to an agreement regarding the support of a special needs child, they can resolve the issue of who will provide for the child after he or she turns eighteen. Any agreement should be filed with the court that would have jurisdiction over the matter while the child is still a minor. This ensures that in the event that either parent fails to fulfill the obligation under the agreement, the other parent can petition the court to enforce the agreement or hold the noncompliant parent in contempt.
What Qualifies as Special Needs
The requirements for imposing a continuing support obligation on a parent of a special needs child vary by state. Some states do not allow for the court to impose any support obligation on a parent after the child reaches the age of majority, regardless of the circumstances. In most cases, the child must be determined to be either physically or mentally disabled in order for the court to order a parent to provide financial support for the child once the child is an adult. Some states define what qualifies as a disability, while others do not. Generally, it has to be a disability that prevents the child from living by him or herself, or earning a meaningful living. It is important to note that support will not be granted for a child who is able to live independently and support him or herself but is merely unwilling to do so. It is also unlikely that a court will impose an obligation on a parent to support a special needs child if the child did not develop his or her disability until after he or she reached the age of majority.
If you disagree with your child’s other parent on whether your child has special needs, or the extent of those needs or the related costs, you can hire an expert to support your position, such as a learning disability specialist.
Special Needs Child Support and Other Sources of Support
If a special needs child is receiving support, the amount of support the child receives may affect his or her eligibility for Medicaid or supplemental security income benefits. A portion of the support may count as income, and if the child’s income is too high under the limits of either program, he or she will be disqualified from receiving benefits. Parents may be able to provide for the child and protect the child’s ability to receive government benefits if the support payments are made to a special needs trust set up for the sole benefit of the child.