In Florida, as in most states, the courts and the legislature have recognized that a parent’s legal obligation to support his or her children ordinarily ceases at the age of majority (18). However, Florida statutes have carved out two exceptions to this general rule. Those exceptions are:
- Child support may be extended beyond the age of 18 where a child has reached the age of majority, is living at home, attending high school, and reasonably expects to graduate high school before the age of 19. Consequently, if your child has reached the age of 18, but is still attending high school and living at home, the parent paying child support would have to continue his or her monthly child support payment until the child graduates from high school; or
- If a child is dependent due to mental or physical incapacity that began prior to the age of 18. Pursuant to this exception, a parent seeking the continuation of child support after the age of 18, faces the difficulty of establishing what type of mental or physical incapacity justifies the extension of child support beyond the age of 18. The statute uses the word: “dependent”. What does the word “dependent mean”? What happens if a child is only moderately incapacitated and is still living at home? For instance, there may be some situations where a child reaches the age of 18, suffers from a mild physical or mental disability, or moderate psychological disorder. Under these circumstances, the child is considered to be “dependent” pursuant to this exception under Florida child support law. Fortunately, case law in Florida has found that the word “dependent” within the meaning of the pertinent statute (§743.07, Florida Statutes) “severe” when describing a child’s mental or physical incapacity. As a result, Florida courts have found that even modest forms of psychological infirmities or physical infirmities meet the definition of “dependent” under this statute. For instance, in the case of Penton v. Penton, 564 So. 2d 114 (Florida 1st DCA 1990), the trial court awarded child support beyond the age of majority where the parties’ son was a sophomore in high school when the divorce was concluded and was being treated by a mental health professional. The child’s emotional condition was found by the trial court to constitute dependency which, coupled with his inability to support himself, was sufficient to require the payment of child support beyond the age of 18. Also, the Florida case of Pitts v. Pitts, 566 So. 2d 12 (Florida 2nd DCA 1990), the trial court found that the parties’ child suffered from learning disabilities, which required that the child devote most of his time to his studies. The court found that the child could not work to support himself while in school due to his learning disability. In this case, the child’s disability appeared to be relatively modest. Nevertheless, the court found that it was sufficient to justify child support paid beyond the age of 18.
Consequently, whether the physical or mental incapacity or disability is “severe” or at least modest, the incapacity must contribute to the child’s inability to support himself. As a result, if you have a child with some type of learning disability, physical disability, mental incapacity, modest mental incapacity, or developmental difficulties, which may prevent them from supporting themselves and/or require them to live at your house after the age of 18, you may want to utilize this statute to obtain child support beyond the age of 18. However, please be on guard that most family law attorneys and judges will automatically equate the word “dependency” contained in Florida Statute 743.07 with the word “disability”. This would not be a fair interpretation pursuant to Florida case law. Pursuant to Florida case law, your child does not have to suffer from an incapacity that rises to the level of dependency.
However, please be aware that if you are going to request child support of any type to be paid beyond the age of 18, your supplemental petition for modification of those payments to continue beyond the age of 18 must be brought before your child reaches majority age (i.e. before they reach their 18th birthday). Failure to do so will preclude you from obtaining continued child support for your child after the age of majority. In addition, the disability that your child suffers from (whether it is modest or severe) must occur before your child reaches the age of 18.
Florida law does provide for two major exceptions that can benefit many families in the State of Florida who have children who will be graduating from high school after the age of 18 or who suffer from some kind of mental or physical incapacity. Nevertheless, parents in Florida have to be weary of the deadlines that are imposed by Florida statute in terms of obtaining this type of relief. Consequently, if any parent whose has a child potentially meeting either of these criteria then they should contact an experienced divorce attorney immediately.
Board Certified Marital and Family Law Attorney Charles D. Jamieson understands that post-divorce Florida child support issues are extremely sensitive and important issues. Thanks to extensive experience and a focus on open communication, Attorney Jamieson adeptly addresses the complex issues surrounding post-divorce child support issues in West Palm Beach while delivering excellent personal service. To discuss post-divorce child support issues in Florida, please contact The Law Firm of Charles D. Jamieson, P.A. or call 561-478-0312.