Does Child Support Continue Past Age 18 for a Disabled Child?
It was apparent after the first five days that something was not right with Audrey Cade’s son. He had been born with a clubfoot deformity, and his mouth could not physically latch onto the bottle or the breast.
As the years went on, he spent too much time in and out of the offices of specialists. He struggled through surgeries on his feet – his development hampered with casts. It was an uphill battle to ensure he received proper nutrition, and he had a lengthy list of allergies. His face never expressed emotions. His eyes could not focus correctly or track objects.
Audrey had trouble sleeping. She spent her nights caring for her son or worrying about her son’s future. Finally, he was diagnosed with Moebius Syndrome, and a proper path of treatments was laid out. Slowly, he learned to walk. He said his first words, and those words blossomed into conversations.
By middle school, he was in honor and advanced placement classes. He acted in the school play and served as a 4H camp counselor.
Because of her experiences with her son, Audrey found a new career path in social services. She went back to school and learned how to help other parents who have children with developmental disabilities.
Somewhere along her family’s journey, Audrey’s marriage collapsed.
The Symptom of Divorce
According to the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (AAIDD), approximately 1% of the population is affected by developmental disabilities. Raising a child with disabilities can drain a relationship physically, emotionally, and financially.
The strain can devastate a marriage. Studies have determined that divorce and marital discord are more prevalent among parents of children with disabilities than with parents of children without disabilities.
Reported separations and divorces are higher among parents of special-needs children.
When Audrey and her husband divorced, they had a second child, and their son was six years old. There seemed to be no other path to happiness, and had decided they would be better parents to their children apart.
But Audrey’s son was confused by this dynamic. He became angry and withdrew. He needed to be reassured that relationships with both of his parents would be supported and nurtured. He needed to know his happiness was paramount and the health of their family was in the forefront of the decision to get divorced. Over time, their family grew stronger by being broken.
Looking Out for the Future
Even though Audrey’s son has spent his young life overcoming obstacles, he still has a long journey ahead on his road to independence. The Moebius Syndrome he suffers from limits his facial movements. Smiles and emotional expressions are nonexistent for him, and his ability to socially interact is hindered because of his restricted speech. Motor skills like writing are hard for him, and it is unsure if he will be able to drive because of the issue with his eyes.
As medicine and treatment continue to improve, life gets better for physically and developmentally disabled children as they grow into adults and live increasingly more normal lives.
For Audrey’s son, living on his own will require additional specialized support. The parents, whether currently married or divorced, bear the responsibility of supplying support, not to mention adapting and planning for continued lifelong assistance.
With treatment, most developmentally disabled children positively develop their functional and behavioral abilities over time as they adapt to a regular lifestyle. Ideally, this treatment is made possible by parental support, sometimes lifelong parental support.
With this support, there is no reason that should deny any disabled child from growing into functioning adults, and living a fulfilling and independent life.
Determining When and If Support Ends
In the state of Louisiana, a parent’s responsibility for paying child support typically stops when children turn 18 years old or the day they graduate from high school or a compliant home school. But this rule does have exceptions.
Under Louisiana Law, R.S. 28:451.2, if a child is enrolled and in good standing at a secondary school, parental support should continue until the child is 22 years old and transitioned into adulthood.
A secondary school could include:
- Colleges and universities
- Vocational and trade schools.
Parental support will also continue if a child suffers from a developmental disability. For children with developmental disabilities, support can end when a child reaches 22 years old, or support may continue indefinitely, depending on various chronic and severe conditions that include:
- Conditions that limit the ability to support themselves and need supervision and substantial care
- Conditions that limit the ability to make a living or live independently
- Conditions that limit the ability to understand or communicate words
For support to go on indefinitely, the mental or physical disability had to occur or have been diagnosed before the age of 18 and continue after they are 22 years old.
Addiction or substance abuse does not fall under the umbrella of disability.
Discovering the Next Step in the Journey
In a lot of cases, caring for developmentally disabled children can be a full-time job. Parents often must juggle this level of care while trying to continue their careers. Maintaining an intimate relationship can become impossible. As difficult as it may be, sometimes divorce is the only viable answer when trying to live a healthy and happy life.
If divorce is inevitable, there are several aspects that should be considered while planning to ensure developmentally disabled children get the support they need. These considerations start with questions like:
- What type of visitation schedule best serves their emotional and physical needs?
- What type of special care will they need?
- What type of healthcare will they need?
- What kind of benefits is the child eligible for?
- Who has the authority on decisions concerning education, medical and treatment options?
- Will their care change in the future?
- Could a special-needs trust help manage the future support a child may need?
- How much time must be devoted to the child’s needs?
- How much will it all cost, and what are the relevant or associative costs?
- Is the child support agreement fair to all the parties involved?
Life care specialists can help answer these questions, and divorce agreements should specify what each parent is responsible for them and in what regard.