Child Support for Adults with Special Needs
California family law has codified a set of policies behind the Guideline formula for child support. In general, the policies ensure that children of the marriage share in the standard of living of each parent in line with California’s high standard of living. This guideline formula placing the children’s interests as the state’s top priority often satisfies the financial needs of minority children, but what about adult special needs children?
California Child Support Can Be Extended Past The Age of Majority for Adult Children With Special Needs
California child support usually terminates at the age of majority per Family Code 3901, with two exceptions: (1) the parents agree to extend child support beyond the age of majority, and (2) the adult child is incapacitated from earning a living and without sufficient means. Now, if the adult child with special needs has significant assets or income such that they have “sufficient means,” the court may not extend child support into adulthood. However, in cases where the adult child is indeed incapacitated, cannot earn a living, and lacks sufficient means, the court may extend child support into adulthood. In calculating child support, the court may follow the State Guideline formula or depart from that formula if warranted by the circumstances.
Extension By Agreement
In some cases, parents agree to extend child support beyond the age of majority to provide for their children with special needs. However, there are serious consequences to signing off on this agreement, so always seek a consultation with an experienced family law attorney first.
After consulting with a child support attorney, parents who wish to agree to an extension of child support for their adult child with special needs should outline the financial support that a child with special needs will require and who will pay for it. Parents need to put in writing who will be financially responsible for the child after the age of 18, especially if the child is severely disabled or unable to work.
In addition, most special-needs children have foreseeable, recurring expenses, such as medication, thereapy, and education. For this reason, it is reasonable for the custodial parent to request additional child support to cover these and other expenses.
Creating a Financial Plan
The costs to support a special needs child can be overwhelming to parents who have not planned for the additional expenses. Creating a financial plan will be up to the parents as there is limited legislative guidance on how parents should plan for the additional costs. The California Family Code Section 3910 does offer a starting point for child support negotiations:
(a) The father and mother have an equal responsibility to maintain, to the extent of their ability, a child of whatever age who is incapacitated from earning a living and without sufficient means.
(b) Nothing in this section limits the duty of support under Sections 3900 and 3901.Cal Fam. Code 3910
As a result, California family courts typically order both parents to continue to support their disabled child throughout their life. Fortunately for many parents government assistance does help with the additional expenses.
Government Support for Special Needs Children
In today’s economy, many parents cannot afford the high costs associated with raising a child with special needs. As a result, parents rely on government benefits to help with the extra expenses. A common scenario involves social security benefits that provide financial assistance to a special needs child. It is important to understand that any aid received will be taken into consideration by the family courts in California when setting child support. If you are the parent of a special needs child who is about to become an adult, speak with a family law attorney to understand your options to give your child the financial support they will need.