When people think about child support in general, they typically associate the child’s 18th birthday with the end of the child support obligation. In reality, there are several scenarios where a parent’s child support obligation may continue, even after the child has turned 18, including cases where the child has disabilities and is dependent. Sometimes, in order to obtain that extended support, the recipient parent may be required to get a court order that declares the adult child to be dependent. When you need a judgment like that, it is important to have an experienced South Florida child support attorney on your side so that you can be confident you’re going about seeking that dependency judgment in the right way… and at the right time.
A recent case from the Daytona Beach area shows just how important timing can be in matters like this. T.P. and P.M. were the parents of a daughter with special needs who was born in 2000. According to the mother’s court papers, the daughter had been severely disabled since infancy and would likely never be self-sufficient due to her disabilities.
In 2006, the parents agreed to a stipulation that said that the father would keep paying support until the daughter reached age 18 “or so long as the child is dependent.” In 2018, just four days before the daughter turned 18, the mother filed court papers asking the court to judge the daughter dependent and order the father to keep paying child support.
Of course, the court did not rule within four days, meaning that the court necessarily passed judgment on the daughter’s status after her 18th birthday. This triggered a very important question in this case, which was: what is the key date in determining whether a court can order child support to continue after the child’s 18th birthday – the date the request was filed or the date the court entered the dependency judgment?
Extra support for ‘a dependent person’ with ‘a mental or physical incapacity’
The law in Florida is clear that the courts here have continuing jurisdiction over modifications to child support, “but only during the period provided for support.” Generally, that would mean that the court’s continuing jurisdiction only lasts until the child turns 18, but that isn’t always the case. One exception, which is contained in Section 743.07(2), says that the court can order support of a person over the age of 18 if that child is “a dependent person” and that the child’s status as a dependent person was the result of “a mental or physical incapacity” that originated before the child turned 18.
The law doesn’t give the parent asking for a continuation of support an unlimited amount of time to act, though. Several years ago, the appeals court rejected a mother’s case because she did not file her petition for extended support until the child was 26 years old. More recently, the appeals court reached the opposite conclusion. The difference was that, in the more recent case, the petition for extended support was filed before the child turned 18.
The key date, then, is the date that the petition was filed. In T.P.’s case, when she filed her request for extended support, the daughter was still 17, so the court had jurisdiction to award a continuation of support.
Like many issues of family law, getting additional support for a child with disabilities over the age of 18 requires taking the right action… and not waiting too long to take that action. The diligent South Florida child support attorneys at Sandy T. Fox, P.A. are here to help. Contact our attorneys online or by calling (800) 596-0579 to schedule your confidential consultation.