Paying Child Support for an Adult Disabled Child

People often think child support terminates once their child turns 18 and graduates from high
school. For parents who have a child with a disability, this is not always the case.

Section 513.5 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (“IMDMA”) allows a court
to order either or both parents to pay child support for an adult child who is mentally or
physically disabled. The IMDMA defines a “disability” as a “mental or physical impairment that
substantially limits a major life activity,” but fails to specify what exactly it means for a major life
activity to be substantially limited. Although not specified in the statute, courts have looked at a
person’s ability to care for oneself, including but not limited to seeking and maintaining
employment, when determining whether an adult child is disabled for purposes of ordering
support. Additionally, Illinois courts consider whether or not the child can live on his/her own; is
capable of supporting his/herself; whether the child completed high school or is attending a
college or trade school; and whether the child is eligible to receive benefits or aid from the
federal or state government, such as social security disability benefits.

Parents should take into account the effect a child support award can have on federal and/or
state benefits such as social security disability benefits, which can be reduced. Professionals
experienced in this area of law should be consulted before a court order is entered requiring
either of the parents to contribute to the expenses of a non-minor child with a disability.
Additionally, parents must be aware of the timing of when they seek a support award. The
statute provides that the disability must have arisen while the child was eligible for support as a
minor, and a court cannot order a parent to be responsible for expenses incurred prior to a
petition/motion being filed. Therefore, a parent supporting an adult disabled child will want to file
a petition or motion as soon as possible to ensure the other parent will be obligated to contribute
to the expenses sooner rather than later.

Courts will look at each parent’s financial ability to contribute to the expenses of the child when
making such awards; this includes each parent’s current and future financial resources as well
their own financial needs. Unlike child support for minor children, courts do not apply set
guidelines. Rather, the totality of the circumstances must be assessed to determine what
expenses the child has and what expenses both parents can afford.

Although a court may order parents to contribute to their adult disabled child’s expenses, a court
cannot award a parent parenting time or visitation with the child. Once a child reaches the age
of majority, courts lose authority to decide issues regarding parenting time and visitation.

Divorce and child support issues are often tricky on their own; adding in the complexity of
support for an adult disabled child muddies the issues even more. Parents dealing with these
issues should seek advice from a qualified attorney.

by Brandy Wisher