If you are co-parenting a child with special needs, you may be wondering what will happen when your child becomes an adult. If you continue to care for your special needs child through adulthood, does the other parent still have to contribute financially? In short, it depends.
In February 2017 a new child support law went into effect that automatically terminates child support when the child turns 19, or in certain circumstances, when the child turns 23. See N.J.S.A. 2A:17-56.67. The new law clearly limits child support for a child to a maximum age of 23. Ibid. This law applies to all child support cases, even if the child has special needs.
However, the new child support law also provides that a court may order “another form of financial maintenance for a child who has reached the age of 23.” Ibid. An example of this could be a case where a child with special needs turns 23 and the court orders the parent to continue to contribute towards the child’s health insurance premiums to replace the terminated child support order which already takes into account the child’s health insurance premiums. See Wernega v. Volpa, 2017 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 1497, *7 n.3 (App. Div. June 21, 2017).
For the court to enter an award of financial maintenance of a child who is 23 years of age or older, the applicant must establish “exceptional circumstances.” Ibid. Exceptional circumstances may include a mental or physical disability. Ibid; see also, Scarpa v. Scarpa, 2017 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 778, *8 n.2 (App. Div. March 30, 2017).
There remains a dearth of case law interpreting this provision of the law that provides for financial support beyond the age of 23; however, the most obvious effect of the transition from child support to “another form of financial maintenance” will be in the enforcement of same. If someone fails to pay child support, there are state and federal laws that govern child support enforcement. In New Jersey, the Probation Division of the Superior Court is designated as a support enforcement agency. N.J.S.A. 2A:4-30.126. Child support enforcement services may include locating the obligor, and collecting child support payments via wage garnishment among other means. These provisions are not applicable once child support is terminated. As such, an award of financial maintenance would not fall under the purview of these child support laws and protections.
Obtaining financial support for an adult child with special needs can be intricate. The skilled and knowledgeable New Jersey family law attorneys at Lyons & Associates are available to speak with you and answer any questions that you may have. We invite you to contact us online or give us a call at our office at 908-575-9777 to schedule an appointment.
Written by: Joanna Adu, Esq.