If you're the newly divorced parent of a disabled child or teen, you're not alone -- researchers have estimated that couples who have a disabled child or children have a significantly higher divorce rate than the general population (and some estimates place this divorce rate as high as 85 percent). The divorce process can become more complex when a disabled child is involved, particularly when it comes to awarding child support. Can the custodial parent of a disabled child continue to receive financial support from the other parent after the child turns 18? Are there any other resources to help defray the costs of care for a child who cannot live independently? Read on to learn more about how this situation is handled under federal and provincial law.
When can you receive child support for an adult child?
Decades ago, it was relatively rare for courts to award child support to a custodial parent after the child had turned 18 (or 19 in a few provinces) or left the home. However, with the significant increases in college costs and the number of children still living at home past their 18th birthdays over the last few years, many provinces have modified their laws to allow (or require) parents to continue to pay child support as long as a child is enrolled in college or graduate school. This requires both parents to share in the financial responsibilities of "launching" an adult child.
If your child is disabled, you'll likely also be providing physical and financial support well past his or her 18th birthday. However, unlike the statutes governing support for college costs, many provinces (and the federal government) had no provisions to allow the payment of extended or permanent child support for a disabled adult. As the costs of long-term care continue to rise with college costs, these laws have begun to change.
How do these child support laws work in practice?
In the provinces that allow judges to award permanent child support when a child is likely to forever be dependent upon a parent, this process is relatively similar to that used when requesting extended support to assist with college costs.
If you and your spouse divorce while your disabled child is still a minor, it's likely that the support decree will only address child support payments until the child turns 18 (or 19). Before your child's 18th birthday, you'll need to petition the court for an extension of child support and provide documentation clearly laying out the need for continued support. For example, you may want a physician's statement that your child is unable to live independently and perform self-care or a detailed statement indicating the specific medical and physical needs of your child.
Because both you and your ex-spouse are considered jointly and legally responsible for caring for a dependent child, if the court determines that your child cannot live independently, you and your ex-spouse continue to be jointly responsible for caretaking expenses for the rest of your child's life. If you perform this caretaking in your home, you're already doing your part -- and your ex-spouse will be required to provide financial (if not physical) support.
What should you do if your province doesn't have a law governing child support for disabled adults?
Some province's laws do not permit permanent child support under any circumstances. If this is the case, and you're unable to afford the care of your child on your own, you may want to consider filing for a legal guardianship. This will allow you to handle your child's physical and financial affairs without interference, and you may be able to sign your child up for public healthcare and other low-income government benefits to help defray the costs of his or her lifetime care.
For more information, you may want to contact an experienced lawyer. If you need more information about lawyers in your area, you can click here to check it out.