Ordinarily, under Florida law an obligation to pay child support ends at age 18, or when the child graduates from high school. Once the child is legally an adult, the parents can continue to provide for them if they wish to do so, but the court ordinarily won’t enforce child support order. If the parents can’t or won’t continue to support their adult children, the adult children must support themselves.
But what if an adult child cannot support themselves because of a mental or physical disability? Does a parent have a legal obligation to continue paying child support?
Until recently, under Florida law the answer was no. That changed this summer with the passage of a new law.
Dependent adult children
The new law, known as SB 226, specifies that child support obligations do not end on the 18th birthday of a dependent adult child. The law defines dependent adult children as those who cannot support themselves due to a physical or mental condition that began before they reached age 18.
Proponents say the change was necessary in order to clear up an ambiguity in the law. In most cases, parents continue to support their dependent adult children, but there are occasional cases in which a divorced parent will try to have the obligation stopped on the child’s 18th birthday. When such cases went before Florida courts, judges found little guidance in the Florida statutes, and so the results were unpredictable. Some courts would order a parent to continue paying support while others would terminate the obligation.
In a high-profile case a few years ago, a Miami man refused to continue paying child support for his 27-year-old daughter who had Down syndrome. When the case went before a circuit court, the judge, finding no guidance in the statutes, dismissed the lawsuit and ordered the disabled daughter to pay her father’s legal fees. An appeals court later reversed that decision.
Lawmakers say they passed the new law in order to prevent such a case from arising in the future.
SB 226 clarifies the law for the courts. It also establishes procedures for establishing and enforcing child support orders for dependent adult children and provides safeguards for the public benefits that go to these dependent adults. It also gives dependent adult children or their other parent the right to sue a parent who is refusing to pay child support.