What Type of Support Can I Expect to Pay for my Adult Special Needs Child?
When there are special needs children involved in a divorce, planning is essential to ensure kids with unique needs will have adequate financial support as adults.
Child support normally terminates when a child turns 18 or graduates from high school. In cases where a child has special needs, however, child support may continue after the age of 18 by a showing the child has a mental or physical condition that prevents them from supporting themselves.
Once a disabled child turns 18, he or she may qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), but SSI places restrictions on the amount of money the child can earn and save and the value of assets they can own. It is important for parents to plan for this, for example, by creating a Special Needs Trust or opening an ABLE account.
Pennsylvania law utilizes guidelines calculations to determine the basic amount of child support owed. These guidelines consider the income available to both parents. Notably, any SSI received by the disabled child is not included as income for support purposes. Further, the existence of a Special Needs Trust established for the child or the funds saved in an ABLE account do not eliminate the parent’s obligation to provide continued child support.
In cases where a child has special needs, there may be unusual expenses that the custodial parent must incur that are unique to their situation. Pennsylvania law allows the court to deviate from the basic support amount after considering certain factors. Those factors include unusual obligations, medical expenses not covered by insurance, and other relevant factors, including the best interest of the child. Custodial parents should make a detailed list of expenses incurred exclusively due to a child’s disability. If a child’s special expenses exceed the guideline amount of support, the court may deviate upward from the guideline calculation. Examples of these expenses could include medical bills not covered by insurance, costs of supplements, service animals and transportation.
For example, however, just because the expenses for a child are $2,000 per month, and the guideline support amount is $1,000 per month, does not guarantee the court will allow an upward deviation. Although the court cannot include SSI in calculation the guideline amount, the court can consider if the child’s reasonable needs can be met through a combination of child support, SSI, a Special Needs Trust, or ABLE funds.
While the court will determine whether guideline support is adequate for a child with special needs, or if additional support may be required, family law attorneys and certified divorce financial analysts often work together on financial plans for restructured families to ensure the child’s future needs are met.
For more information, read Special Needs Children & Divorce by CDFA Donna Kline on the HBKS Wealth Advisors website.
Megan A. DelVecchio is an associate attorney at Pollock Begg with extensive trial experience, specialized training in mediation and skilled technique working collaboratively to settle cases out of court. Recognized on the Pennsylvania Super Lawyers Rising Stars lists since 2018, Megan is passionate about enhancing the local legal community. She serves as vice president of Christian Legal Aid of Pittsburgh and has presented continuing legal education seminars for the Matrimonial Inns of Court, Pennsylvania and Allegheny County bar associations and Duquesne University School of Law.