CHILD SUPPORT FOR AN ADULT DEPENDENT CHILD
One of life’s more difficult challenges is having the responsibility to care for an adult disabled child. Whether the disability is predicated on mental health issues, such as schizophrenia or autism, or on physical issues such as paralysis from a diving accident or multiple sclerosis, the time and cost required to assist the adult child can be daunting. All of know that the law requires support to be paid by parents for an dependent minor child, but what if the child has attained the age of eighteen but will remain dependent for years to come? And if the child is now an adult, who can fight for child support – the adult child or the primary care-giving parent?
Florida law (Chapter 743.07 F.S.) provides an answer. The statute says that a court may order support for an adult child if the child is deemed ‘dependent’ and the dependency began prior to the child reaching adulthood at age eighteen. Note that ‘dependency’ does not equal ‘incompetency’. Under Florida law a dependent adult child may be fully competent while being dependent. Timing is important however. While the law does not require that a court find the child dependent prior to attaining age eighteen, it does require that the physical or mental condition defining the dependency must exist before the child attains adulthood. If this is so, the primary care-giving parent (that is, the parent with the majority of timesharing and responsibility for the child) is a proper party to initiate the claim in court for the child support to extend beyond the dependent child attaining adulthood.
The better practice which is followed by my office is the following: If the physical or mental condition defining the then-minor child as likely dependent will continue beyond the child attaining adulthood, the court handling a divorce or paternity case involving the then-minor child should be asked by the care-giving parent to order child support beyond the then-minor child’s attaining adulthood. This will avoid having to return to court once (or immediately before) the child attains adulthood to seek an extension of the child support for the adult dependent child.
Raising and caring for an adult dependent child is not easy. It should not carry the additional burden of being exclusively expensive. Florida law can be called upon to ensure that the non-care-giving parent shares through an extension of child support the financial burden for the lifetime of the adult dependent child.