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Can you get child support for your adult disabled child?

If you and your spouse contemplate a Texas divorce and are the parents of a disabled child over the age of 18, can you seek child support for that child even if (s)he no longer lives with you? This was the issue the Supreme Court of Texas addressed in the 2018 case of In the Interest of C.J.N.-S. and J.C.N.-S. 

In this case, a Texas couple divorced in 1998. One of their children had continuing medical problems that started prior to her 18th birthday. She began living on her own once she turned 18 in 2011. Ultimately she received a diagnosis of gastroparesis in 2013, meaning that her condition makes it necessary for her to have a feeding tube and take medication, both of which preclude her from maintaining employment. Her mother pays both her living and medical expenses and also visits her regularly to help with household chores.

The mother sought a child support modification order under Section 154.302 of the Texas Family Code that allows child support for an adult child if (s)he has a physical or mental disability requiring “substantial care and personal supervision,” assuming the disability arose prior to his or her 18th birthday. The trial court ordered the father to pay $722.85 per month as child support and an additional $250 per month in medical support. The father appealed.

Appellate issue

On appeal, the father argued that the mother had no standing to seek child support for this adult child because his ex-wife had neither physical custody nor guardianship of her as allegedly required by Section 154.303(a)(1) and (2) of the statute. The appellate court agreed with him and reversed the trial court’s order, apparently concluding that the trial court misinterpreted the statute. Consequently, it did not address the father’s other issues as to whether or not his adult child requires support and the amount of child support the trial court ordered.

Supreme Court decision

The Texas Supreme Court disagreed with both the father and the appellate court, finding that the statute allowed the mother to sue for child support despite having neither physical custody nor a guardianship order. The Court also noted that the statute allows for child support payments whether or not the adult child is institutionalized and that a trial court maintains continuing jurisdiction to modify its support order.

So in answer to our original question, yes you can seek child support for your adult disabled child, whether or not (s)he lives with you, if his or her disability arose prior to his or her 18th birthday. This is educational information only and not intended to provide legal advice.

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