CAN YOU LOSE CHILD SUPPORT FOR YOUR ADULT CHILD WITH DISABILITIES?

The answer is “yes” and “no.”   The lives of parents caring for adult children with disabilities is already burdensome, and this change in the law adds an additional barrier such parents will have to overcome, but it will not bar them from obtaining the payments they may be entitled to.

New Jersey passed a law last year that takes effect next month – February 2017 – that may disrupt payments from an ex-spouse that are necessary to care for a child with disabilities.   Under the former law, the State provides strong enforcement action under its “Probation” department, that could include wage garnishment and even potential incarceration.  

The new law ends any and all “child support” obligations in divorced families once the child reaches the age of 23.  Thus, the State will no longer provide probation enforcement beyond the child’s 23rd birthday.  This applies to a child with disabilities in the same manner as to any other child. Custodial parents whose children are now approaching the age of 23 will now receive a notice from the State designating the upcoming birth date as the date upon which the support payment obligations that they have been relying will end. 

However, custodial Parents of  children with special needs who require such support should not panic.  And non-custodial parents who are now required to provide such support should not be misled into thinking they can now abandon those obligations.  

Instead, the statute recognizes that persons with disabilities may require financial “maintenance” beyond age 23 and that parents of such persons may be responsible to provide financial “maintenance” as long as necessary for such children.    The big difference beyond the semantics of “child support” vs “maintenance” is that the probation department will not address or enforce “maintenance,” and custodial parents will instead have to seek such payments by way of an additional process in Family Court.

Such additional process can result in a Court Order requiring the noncustodial parent to provide “maintenance” payments, and those payments may (or may not) be in the same amount as the previous “child support” payments.  Once such an Order is obtained, the child or custodial parent will have access to the enforcement powers attendant with any Court Order, but will no longer be able to rely on the exceptional enforcement powers of the Probation department.   (A link to the new statute can be found here:  http://www.njchildsupport.org/getattachment/Services-Programs/Custodial-Parents/Termination/Emancipation/Termination-of-Child-Support-Public-Law-2015,-Chapter-223_.pdf.aspx)

If you are a divorced parent who has a child with a disability who is approaching or over the age of 23, you should consult with a knowledgeable attorney as to the impact this new law may have on your rights and obligations.