When Does Child Support End for Disabled Adults in New York State?
According to New York State law, a custodial parent can receive child support until their child turns 21. Exceptions to this law pertain to “emancipated children” who are between 17 and 21 years old and either married, self-supporting, or in the military.
But what about parents of children with developmental disabilities—shouldn’t there be exceptions regarding how long they can collect child support? Developmental disabilities include both physical and mental disabilities; some examples are blindness, deafness, autism, ADHD, Down syndrome, Rett syndrome, cerebral palsy, and Prader-Willi syndrome.
For years, New York law viewed young adults with developmental disabilities no differently than their non-disabled counterparts. In other words, parents of both disabled and non-disabled young adults would lose their child support at age 21 (or sooner).
The disparity is obvious if you consider how disabled adults face a plethora of challenges that non-disabled adults typically may not. For instance, it may be difficult for developmentally disabled adults to secure gainful employment if the employer cannot provide reasonable accommodations—and thus it may be difficult for these adults to be self-supporting.
Thankfully, legislation concerning this issue changed a few months ago. In October 2021, a new law passed unanimously by New York legislature extended the amount of time that parents of adults with developmental disabilities can receive child support payments. In New York, custodial parents of children with developmental disabilities can now receive child support payments until their child turns 26. New York is the 41st state to expand this type of legislation.
Custodial vs. Noncustodial Parent
If you are the custodial parent to your child, you have been given full physical or legal custody of your child by court order. Physical custody determines where the child lives; legal custody determines which parent can make decisions regarding the child’s welfare.
If you are the noncustodial parent to your child, your child does not live with you primarily (or at all). This does not mean that you have no financial obligation to supporting your child. Additionally, you may or may not have legal custody to your child. You might also share joint physical and/or legal custody with your ex-partner (the custodial parent).
The ultimate purpose of designating custodial and noncustodial guardians of a child is to ensure that the child’s needs are met in the best way possible, considering the respective situations of each parent.
Process for Obtaining Child Support
If you’re the custodial parent of a developmentally disabled child in New York, the process for obtaining child support can be complex and stressful. It’s advisable to obtain the counsel of an attorney experienced in handling child support cases and familiar with the recently amended law to guide you.
- Obtain a Diagnosis
This legislation requires your child to be diagnosed with a developmental disability by a medical professional. The following types of medical professionals can give the diagnosis:
- Licensed psychologist
- Registered professional nurse
- Licensed clinical social worker
- Licensed master social worker (under the supervision of a physician, psychologist, or licensed clinical social worker)
The given diagnosis must fit certain criteria:
- Your child must receive the diagnosis before 22 years of age.
- The diagnosis must be expected to continue indefinitely.
- The diagnosis must be regarded as significant handicap to the child’s ability to function in society.
It’s also a good idea to procure sworn statements, medical records, school records, or any other sort of documentation stating the child’s intellectual, physical, or emotional limits and how these limits prevent your adult child from being self-supporting. This documentation can be useful in court.
- File a Petition in Court
If you’re the custodial parent of your disabled child, you can file a petition in Family Court asking for your child’s noncustodial parent to pay child support until your child turns 26. While not required for you to have the representation of an attorney at court, it’s highly advisable that you do—securing the representation of a skilled attorney to advocate for you can help you receive the best results in your case.
- Bring Proper Documentation
Both the custodial and noncustodial parents must provide certain documentation in court. In addition to providing documentation delineating your child’s intellectual, physical, and emotional limits, it’s also necessary to bring:
- A copy of the medical report(s) stating your child’s diagnosis of a developmental disability
- Recent tax returns
- Recent pay stubs
- A financial disclosure statement listing earnings and expenses
- Proof of expenses for rent, food, clothing, medical costs, childcare, education, and the costs related to supporting other children
- What Should I Expect in Court?
Testimony and Evidence
During the hearing (court proceeding), a Support Magistrate (individual appointed by the chief judge of the judicial district) takes testimony from the custodial and noncustodial parents. The Support Magistrate reviews all provided documentation as well as other evidence, such as witness testimonies.
Determination of Payment
If the Support Magistrate decides the noncustodial parent must issue child support to the custodial parent, they will state their decision. If they’re in favor of continuing child support for the custodial parent, they’ll calculate the amount the noncustodial must pay and set a schedule for payments. These payments will be paid directly to the custodial parent or through the Support Collections Unit (SCU).
- Can the Order Be Appealed?
Both parties can file an objection to the Support Magistrate’s decision within 30 days of the date the order is sent to them. An objection must be filed with the court clerk’s office; a copy must be sent to the other party. The other party can send their reply to the court.
A judge then rules on the objection. They may decide to leave the order as is, change it, or send it back to the Support Magistrate for further proceedings.
If either party disagrees with the judge’s decision, they can appeal the case to a higher court.
If the noncustodial parent fails to pay a support order, the custodial parent can file a violation petition asking the court to take action. “Taking action” would mean delivering a petition to the noncustodial parent, then holding a hearing to decide if the noncustodial parent has indeed violated the court’s order.
There are repercussions for a noncustodial parent’s failure to pay child support.
- Payments can be taken directly from their paycheck.
- They can be ordered to pay a lump sum of arrears (overdue payments) to the custodial parent.
- They can have their drivers, professional, or business licenses suspended.
- Their bank accounts can be seized.
- Their passport can be revoked.
- Their tax refunds can be intercepted.
- In certain cases, they can be jailed for up to six months for failure to pay child support.
Children cannot fight for justice owed to them, and it’s important that the legal system takes child support cases seriously. This expansion in legislation relating to child support laws for the developmentally disabled in New York is a critical step in securing this vulnerable population’s rights.
Prior to this legislation, custodial parents of developmentally disabled children likely received most of their support through local school districts, where the children spent hours of their day. Once the children aged out of the school system, however, the responsibility for the child would fall entirely on the custodial parent. Hopefully, this new legislation provides more support for such parents to arrange a care plan for their developmentally disabled child.
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Michael Rubenfield, Esq. is an adept litigator who has been concentrating in Divorce and Family Law for over 25 years. He and our legal team are committed to helping clients like you explore legal solutions to stressful situations. We are here to help ease your burdens with a personalized approach.