Ordinarily, a parent’s duty to pay child support automatically ends when the supported child turns 18. At that age, an individual is automatically considered a legal adult who is capable of independently handling their own affairs.
However, children with special needs often reach the age of 18 but still cannot handle their activities of daily living or financial matters without assistance from another person. In cases where an adult child with special needs received child support from one of their separated or divorced parents, the question of continued child support becomes an important issue.
General Child Support Principles
Parents owe a legal duty to provide their children with adequate financial assistance to cover the necessities of life, including food, shelter, medical care, and educational costs. This duty arises from a parent-child relationship and automatically terminates when a child becomes an adult. As a result, a person’s duty to pay child support depends on whether they have a legal parent-child relationship with the child. New Jersey’s courts have jurisdiction to determine parentage issues before ordering child support.
The amount a parent is required to pay in child support depends on their income and the number of minor children they have. New Jersey law provides specific guidelines for child support obligations concerning families with up to six children.
New Jersey Statutes § 2A:34-23a lists certain factors courts will consider when determining a parent’s child support obligation, including:
- The child’s basic needs
- The standard of living each parent attained
- Each parent’s financial resources
- Each parent’s earning capacity, factoring educational background, training, work experience, and employment skills
- The child’s educational needs and academic ability, including higher education
- Each parent’s health
- The child’s health
- Financial resources available to the child
- The child’s earning capacity
- Pre-existing child support obligations for other children
- The debts and liabilities of each parent
Courts have the discretion to approve additional expenses for the children, such as the costs associated with caring and providing for the special needs of handicapped or disabled children.
Special Needs Trusts for Adult Children with Disabilities
In cases where an unemancipated adult children with disabilities the age of 18, a parent’s child support obligations can be modified to provide continued financial support for the child’s special needs. Parents can provide financial support for their special needs adult children using what is known as a special needs trust. When a child with special needs is still a minor, their parents can fund a special needs trust that generates income for the child to later use when they turn 18, while maintaining eligibility for certain government benefits, such as Medicaid. Parents can agree to establish and maintain a special needs trust as part of their child support obligation.
For Quality Legal Counsel, Reach Out to DeTommaso Law Group, LLC
Child support is an important legal obligation that parents are responsible for paying. Divorcing parents may find resolving legal disputes regarding the exact details of their child support obligations to be challenging. As a result, it is important to consult an experienced attorney for legal advice about child support obligations—especially when a child with special needs is involved. Our legal team at DeTommaso Law Group, LLC can provide you with quality legal counsel and advocacy for child support matters.