Serving Clients in Knox, Blount, Anderson, Loudon, Sevier & Roane Counties

Disabled Adult Children

What do you do if your child is disabled, has turned 18, but cannot live independently? What are the financial implications for disabled adult children?

Most parents of disabled children don’t throw them out the door, and they need the continued support and commitment of the other parent – both personal, and financial – at the same level as before that magic age of 18 was reached. We find that most parents and courts misunderstand their obligations under the law, and most parents are not adequately exploring all of the options to address the needs of their adult disabled child.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines “disability” as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities of such individual.” Major life activities include “caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working.” If your child has any of these limitations, the Court may order child support until your child is 21.

If your child is “severely disabled,” the Court will order child support permanently. What counts as “severe disability” is not defined by statute, but Tennessee courts have historically considered such factors as the ability of your child to complete required daily tasks, such as preparing meals, washing clothes, dressing, getting to work on time, bathing, going to the bathroom, and getting out of bed. Courts also consider the adult child’s ability to make more complex judgment calls, such as using money responsibly, making rational decisions about medical care, and reacting appropriately to danger in the environment.

Permanent child support is not something that courts commonly face, and many courts misapply the law. The courts appear especially confused about the difference between “disability,” which entitles the child to support until they are 21, and “severe disability,” which entitles the child to permanent child support. The confusion of the Courts is why you need an experienced lawyer to explain the law and to present those facts.

Furthermore, most parents are not adequately exploring alternative means to a simple child support award that would provide for their adult disabled children in a better and more cost-efficient way. Several legal methods can be utilized, ranging from establishing a special needs trust, to applying for a conservatorship, to planning the parents’ estate such that the child is provided for even if something happens to both parents.

The best solution for your child is going to require careful consideration of the nature of your child’s disability; your child’s medical, social, and economic needs; your relationship with the child’s other parent; the parents’ respective incomes and tax positions; your child’s age; your own life expectancy and estate planning goals; and a host of other factors. The approach should involve the perspective all of the professionals, from CPA’s to medical providers, and balance the needs of each parent’s household and the child, both now and in the future.

It can be overwhelming. But the point is this: Providing for the long-term care of an adult disabled child has specific challenges that merit careful consideration of all options. Held Law Firm has specific experience dealing with these issues, representing both the parent being asked to pay permanent child support, the parent who stands to receive it, and the child whose care is at the heart of the problem.

If we may be of assistance to you, please give us a call to schedule a case assessment. We look forward to working with you.

Call 865-685-4780 to schedule a case assessment with Margaret Held or another Held Law Firm attorney.