How Child Support Differs for Special Needs Children in Pennsylvania

Posted on March 12th, 2020 in Child Custody/Support

When it comes to financial obligations in place for divorcing couples, there is a lot to consider when it comes to child support. Pennsylvania uses the “income shares” model for calculating child support, which looks at the income and various other factors to determine monthly support payments. One factor many families do not realize is how child support can be impacted if a child has special needs. If you are going through a divorce and determining child support for your special needs child, here’s what you need to know.

Under what conditions am I responsible for my adult child?

What qualifies as enough evidence that you may be required to pay child support after your child reaches the age of 18 is not always clear. Typically, the rule is a parent must still support the adult child if the child is physically or mentally feeble or otherwise unemployable.

While there is no substantive legal wording on how to define what qualifies as a special needs child, courts tend to determine the need as a disability that prevents the child from living by themselves or earning a living. However, it is important to note that if the child were to develop a disability after reaching adulthood, the parents are very unlikely to be financially responsible for the child. 

What cases exist to determine child support for special needs children?

In the 1993 Pennsylvania Supreme Court case, Hanson v. Hanson reviewed John Hanson’s obligation to his adult daughter to pay child support as she was unable to earn a living wage given her conditions. The court tested her physical and mental ability to engage in profitable employment. While Hanson’s daughter was working minimum wage jobs, earning under $3,000 a year, that is not enough to sufficiently support her. The court upheld the ruling that he must pay weekly support to her.

The result of Hanson v. Hanson established that the burden is on the child to prove conditions that make liveable employment impossible.

However, while a parent to a child with special needs may be required to pay child support into the child’s adulthood, if a child, who had previously been independent of the family, sustains a disability, the parents are most likely not responsible for the child’s medical bills.

In the case, Sacred Heart Medical Center v. Williamson, Williamson’s 21-year-old son had checked himself into the hospital for a broken leg. However, the son neglected to pay the medical bills and the hospital sued the parents. At the time, the son had been living independently of the parents and was financially sustaining himself. While the parents had given their son gifts and paid medical bills in the past, they did not feel responsible for his hospital bill as they did not buy his food, pay his rent, or buy his clothes. The court sided with the parents that they were not obligated to pay future medical bills as there was no contract or agreement that the parents would be responsible for future bills. 

The bottom line is this: When creating your child support agreement, consider all the needs of your children.

While the requirements of supporting an adult child for how much time, or at what amount remains unclear, the courts will most often side that a parent must support their children with special needs who cannot financially support themselves or live separate from a parent.

If you have a child with special needs and are working through a child custody agreement, contact the family lawyer, Craig Kalinoski, to ensure your child is cared for.

If you need guidance creating a child support agreement or if you are seeking a modification of your current payments, don’t wait. Contact Scranton child support lawyer Craig Kalinoski to schedule a free consultation today and learn your legal options.

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