Child Support Obligations for Disabled Child: An Interesting Case

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More than likely, you already understand the premise of child support. Its intent is to ensure your children are financially cared for until a date determined for the court. Emancipation may come at different ages. However, you may wonder what happens to child support obligations for a disabled child.

NJSA 2A:17-56.67 offers some insight about the termination of child support commitments in general. Some have nothing to do with age at all. For example, the parent required to make payments may stop if the child gets married or becomes enrolled in the military. Unless otherwise specified in a court order, child support obligations also end when the child reaches the age of 19.

The court may select another age in determining when child support obligations should end. That said, the required payments should not extend beyond the date the child reaches 23 years of age. The exact age will be reflected in the court order.

In the meantime, a custodial parent may request continuation of child support beyond the age of 19, even if a later age is not specified in the original mandate from the court.  Two considerations involve the child’s educational pursuits.

The court may also decide to continue support payments if the child has a physical or mental disability. The statute requires that a federal or State government agency determine these disabilities. Additionally, there must be proof that the disabilities existed before the child reaching the age of 19. Of course, there must be evidence that continued child support is necessary.

Mother Sought Continued Child Support for Disabled Child

S.E. v. B.S.B. is an unpublished New Jersey Appellate Decision decided earlier this week. Initials are used to replace the names of both parties for confidentiality purposes. S.E. is the mother of the child referred to as D.E.; B.S.B. is the father.  The fact that this case is unpublished means that the ruling only applies to the parties involved in this matter.

D.E. was born in November of 1993 and has never had a relationship with his father.  According to S.E., the son was born with cerebral palsy. At a later date, doctors diagnosed D.E. with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Despite his disabilities, D.E. completed high school and also took classes at the local community college. He has applied for jobs but has not been hired for any.  S.E. receives $325 in monthly social security benefits – paid because of D.E.’s disabilities. D.E. is also eligible for other social services.

Although it is unclear of when B.S.B. started to pay child support, S.E. received a letter indicating that the payments were due to terminate because of D.E. reaching the age of 23. S.E. went to court on her own – and requested that the court require the father to pay $295 per week and one-half of D.E.'s medical expenses.

B.S.B. had no contact with his son and was not aware that the child had any disability at all. The mother provided some evidence of her son’s disability, but the court did not find them strong enough. In order for support to continue, S.E. needed to prove that D.E.’s continuing "severe mental or physical incapacity causes" meant he was still financially dependent.

The court reviewed many reports, and noted that although D.E. could not tie his own shoes, he "is independent with most activities of daily living," "knows how to complete chores around the house," can prepare his own meals with supervision, and has earned a black belt in karate.”

In the end, the court affirmed the lower court’s decision to terminate child support. S.E. bore the burden of rebutting the presumption of emancipation based on the child’s age. She was unsuccessful in doing so.

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