Child Support for Adult Children with Special Needs in California

In California, parents are expected to pay child support until their children turn 18, or graduate high school, whichever happens later. But what if a child has special needs; for example, what if a child has autism, down syndrome, or another disability? Do the same rules apply, especially if the adult child with special needs is incapable of supporting himself or herself?

Before we jump into California’s law on the matter, let’s use autism for an example and take a look at some of the statistics. According to Autism Speaks, in 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that about 1 in 59 children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

“More than half of young adults with autism remain unemployed and unenrolled in higher education in the two years after high school,” reports Autism Speaks. What’s more, almost half of 25-year-olds with autism have never had a job that paid them.

Adult Child Support in California

Traditionally, child support in California ends when a child turns 18 or graduates from high school. It can also end when a child joins the military, marries, is emancipated, or dies. However, a California family court can order both parents to continue supporting their disabled child if he or she is unable to support themselves.

The age the child became disabled can be a factor for a court that is trying to decide if a parent is responsible for supporting their disabled child after the age of 18. If a child was born disabled or developed a severe disability before the age of 18, the family court may rule that the child will never be able to care for himself or herself. Regardless of the child’s age, the parents may need to support their child for a long time.

If an adult child with special needs receives public benefits, they may relieve or reduce a parent’s support obligation, but it depends on various factors, such as the type of benefits the child is receiving. SSI benefits, for example, don’t usually offset a parent’s obligation to support an adult child with disabilities, while SSDI or Social Security benefits could.

Do you have questions about a divorce or child support matter? If so, contact our firm to meet with an Orange County attorney.