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Florida Child Support for Children with Special Needs

There’s no denying that children are expensive. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, parents of a child born in 2013 can expect to spend on average $245,340 to raise a child until age 18. Yet for families of children with special needs, those costs can be much, much more, and may extend over the course of the child’s lifetime. So how is this fact reconciled with Florida’s law terminating child support when the child turns 18?

Extension of Florida Child Support Obligation

A parent’s child support obligation normally terminates on the child’s 18th birthday. However, Florida law permits the court to extend a child support obligation beyond the child’s 18th birthday if the child is dependent upon his parents due to “mental or physical incapacity which began prior to such person reaching majority.”

A child with a mental or physical disability may be unable to work, and thus unable to support himself. He may be physically unable to care for himself. Or a mental disability may make him unable to hold down substantial gainful employment that would be sufficient to provide a living. Whatever the disability, if it renders the child unable to care for himself and his daily needs once he turns 18 – the age of majority – then the court can require the obligor parent (the parent who pays child support) to continue to make support payments.

However, the child’s disability must have occurred before he turned age 18. A child born with cerebral palsy or Down syndrome, or a child who became physically or mentally disabled as the result of an illness or accident after birth, but before turning 18, would be eligible under Florida law to receive extended child support.

But if the mental or physical disability arose after the child turned 18 – and therefore, no longer considered a child under Florida law – the court could not order the obligor parent to continue to pay child support. It makes no difference that the child who was disabled prior to age 18 and the child disabled after age 18 have the same financial and medical need. Nor does it make a difference that if the parents had remained married, they likely would have provided for the child physically and financially. Once the child turns 18, the obligation to pay child support ends, and cannot be legally reinstated. The only potential way to reinstitute child support in this situation would be if the parents entered into an agreement that they would each financially support the child. In this case though, enforcement would be on a contract theory, and not the child support laws.

Boca Raton Child Support Attorneys

If you are raising a child with special needs Florida law allows for a child support order to be continued past the child’s 18th birthday. The Boca Raton child support attorneys at Schwartz l White can help. With more than 40 years’ experience dealing with Florida child support issues, our attorneys are ready to fight to ensure that your child receives the financial support he deserves. Call us today at 561.391.9943 to schedule your free consultation.

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