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Parental Support of Disabled Adult Children

A parent’s child support obligation may not terminate when the child attains the age of majority. If an adult child cannot be self supporting due to a disability, the state may require that child support be continued.

State Laws

The potential liability for supporting an adult disabled child falls into three categories. The first category eliminates all liability for the support of a disabled child. The second category imposes liability for a child who becomes disabled before the child reaches the age of majority and the disability is such that the child cannot become self-supporting. The third category imposes liability on the parents for the support of a disabled child, whether the disability began before or after the child reached the age of majority. States predicate liability on either statute, common law, or contractual duties.

No Support Liability

Nine states relieve the parents of all liability for supporting a child after the child reaches the age of majority. They are: Georgia, Kansas, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin. This group follows the common law, and there are no statutes imposing the duty. New York enacted a law to expressly relieve parents of any liability to support a disabled child after the child reaches the age of majority. However, parents may choose to continue to support a child into adulthood. Those who choose to continue supporting a child frequently seek ways to do so in a manner to supplement, rather than jeopardize the child’s entitlement to Supplemental Security Income and Medicaid benefits.

Liability for Support

About half of the states require parents to contribute to the support of a child who becomes disabled and unable to support himself if the disability began before the child reached the age of majority. Children who reach the age of majority become fully emancipated, and a subsequent disability will not resurrect a duty to support the child. This requirement of support is founded on a statute in some states or on case law in other states, based on a compelling moral duty for parents to care for their adult disabled children and public policy that a child should not be a burden on the state. In eighteen states and the District of Columbia, parents are held liable for the support of their disabled children, whether the disability began before or after the child reaches the age of majority. In Idaho and the District of Columbia, the responsibility is limited to the cost of care of a mentally ill relative committed to a state facility.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.