Is It True That Parents Must Pay Child Support for Disabled Children for Life?

When a non-custodial parent is ordered to pay child support as part of the divorce decree, the parent reasonably expects that he or she is only required to pay that money until the child reaches the age of majority. However, there are exceptions to this rule, and one of them requires parents to provide long-term support to disabled children in certain situations. If you're a parent of a disabled child, here's what you need to know about this issue to help you make adequate preparations during your divorce.

Support Obligation Varies by State

Almost all states have either instituted laws requiring or decreed by case law that parents are obligated to continue providing support to adult children with disabilities. In the majority of states, this is only required for children whose mental, physical, or intellectual disability makes them unable to provide for themselves, and each state handles this requirement differently.

For example, in Indiana, support orders continue indefinitely until age 19 unless the child is incapacitated, and then until the court deems it appropriate to end the support requirement. However, in Michigan, support may only be extended after the child reaches 19 1/2 if both parties agree to that.

The court may also consider the parent's ability to keep paying support beyond the normally required time period as well as whether the child has other means of financial assistance. For instance, if the child receives disability payments from the Social Security Administration sufficient enough to provide for his or her needs, then support payments may be lowered or terminated.

Lastly, when the child becomes disabled will also factor into whether or not a parent must provide financial support. In general, children who become disabled before they reach the age of majority are eligible for continued support, but kids who acquired their disabilities after they are emancipated are not. Be aware, though, the age of majority is 21 in some states.

Handling Support Issues for a Disabled Child

If the state law doesn't automatically continue support orders for disabled children past the age of majority, then it will be necessary to negotiate this issue in the divorce decree. This can be challenging since it may be hard to predict a parent's financial state or what the child's needs will be in the future. It may be best to start by estimating the financial impact the child's care will have on the custodial parent based on the child's current state and negotiate a settlement based on that number, but leave the door open for making adjustments as needed.

Negotiating with a spouse about support issues for a disabled child can be complicated and emotionally difficult. It's a good idea to consult with a divorce attorney about the legal resources available that may make the task easier. Find an attorney who can help you by exploring websites like