When a couple with children divorces, child support is an issue most people understand and expect. But what happens when a child still lives at home but is no longer a minor? What if one of the children is a stepchild? Or what if an adult child is unable to be self-supporting due to a disability? There are many other scenarios that can arise, but this article will address these three situations as they seem to be among the most common.
Adult child living at home. It’s not uncommon for an adult child to live at home. Common scenarios are: a child who is attending college; a child who has graduated from college but has been unable to find a job; a child who has graduated from college and has a job, but is saddled with student loans and can’t afford a place of their own; or an immature child who can’t seem to “get their act together.”
Do any of these scenarios give rise to an order for child support? No. Child support is set by statute, and parents are only legally obligated to support their children up to age 18, unless the child is 18, unmarried, and a full-time high school student. In that case, child support can extend to the age of 19, or whenever the child graduates high school – whichever occurs first. Otherwise, if asked, the court cannot order child support beyond the age of 18 unless the parties agree to it.
Child support for a stepchild. As a general rule, a stepparent isn’t legally obligated to support a stepchild. However, the exception is if the stepparent is considered a putative parent. A putative parent is someone who holds the child out to be their own and the child believes that person to be their parent.
A very common example of this is when a couple marries, the wife has an infant child, and the biological father is not in the picture for whatever reason. The husband raises the child as his own, and the child believes the husband to be their father. This scenario could give rise to the court finding the “father” a putative parent and ordering him to pay child support for his stepchild.
Disabled adult child. There are many levels of disability. Just because an adult child has a disability doesn’t mean a parent is legally obligated to support them. The basic standard is to review the situation by looking at whether or not the child is likely to become a public charge. There are many people who, in spite of a physical or mental disability, are able to support themselves, so the label of “disabled” doesn’t create an automatic reason for support. Whether or not an adult child is disabled for purposes of obligating a parent to support them is something the court generally has to decide, based upon all of the facts presented.
Pamela Edwards-Swift is a Certified Family Law Specialist