If you have an adult child with a disability or medical condition, you may be obligated to pay child support indefinitely if you divorce, separate, or even if you never married your child’s other parent.
In Maryland, as in most other states, both parents have an obligation to support their minor children financially. That means when the parents of minor children divorce or separate (or even if they were never married), one of them is usually required to pay child support to the other. Generally, child support for a minor child ends at age 18, unless the child hasn’t graduated from high school. In that case, child support ends when the child turns 19 or graduates from high school, whichever comes first.
These general rules change – and your parental obligations are even greater – if your adult child “cannot be self-supporting due to a mental or physical infirmity” or if your child “has no means of subsistence.” In this case, you may be obligated to provide financial support for your child indefinitely, regardless of his or her age, as long as you have sufficient means to provide the support.
Maryland law refers to such an adult child as a “destitute adult child,” which is a misleading and confusing term. The purpose of the law is actually to prevent a disabled adult from being destitute. Your adult child does not already need to be destitute to create the child support obligation.
What determines if an individual is a “destitute adult child”?
The law defines a destitute adult child as having “no means of subsistence;” in other words, if he or she literally has no financial resources or income. But the law also applies if your child’s expenses exceed his or her financial resources. For example, if your adult son receives income from a part-time job but cannot work full-time due to a medical or mental condition, and he does not earn enough to pay for basic living expenses, then he may qualify as an adult destitute child.
The court makes this determination, but it may only look at financial resources (bank funds, trusts, wages, Social Security benefits, etc.) that are currently available to the child. The individual’s potential for employment or ability to obtain financial resources in the future cannot be considered.
What determines the amount of child support?
Maryland has specific Child Support Guidelines. The guidelines include a formula for the calculation of child support based on criteria such as parental income, the number and age of children, and a range of other factors. Any funds that your child receives in Social Security benefits or other types of income may reduce the amount of child support you are obligated to pay.
Please note, however, that Maryland’s Child Support Guidelines do not apply to your family if your combined parental income is more than $180,000 per year. If your income exceeds this threshold and/or your child receives income, then the court will determine the amount of support. Therefore, it is important to consult an attorney as part of the process.
Does child support impact Social Security benefits for disabled children?
Yes. If your adult child receives Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the establishment of child support will substantially reduce the benefits from that program. There is a workaround if your child’s SSI benefits are insufficient for his or her needs. By working with an attorney, you can create a special needs trust and agree to have child support paid into that trust – without referring to the funds as “child support.”
The dissolution of any parental relationship is fraught with emotional and financial issues that can be overwhelming. The consequences are even longer-lasting if you have a disabled child. If you find yourself in these circumstances, it is very important to consult an attorney familiar with family law to be sure that your adult child receives adequate support. If you have questions or need assistance, please contact me by e-mail or phone at (240) 778-2304.