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Child Support for Special Needs Children

Divorcing parents of special needs children in Illinois may be facing a few unexpected child support considerations that would not generally apply to parents with children who possess full mental and physical capability. Since children with mental or physical disabilities often require more complex and expensive medical, emotional and educational services than the average child, Illinois courts may deviate from the state’s child support guidelines.

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Child Support May Continue Past the Age of Majority

In most cases, support is ordered to be paid until a child reaches the age of majority. In Illinois, the age of majority is considered to be 18, or 19 if the child is still attending high school. When a child is unable to become financially independent due to a mental or physical disability, however, the financial obligations of the parents may continue for years to come. In many cases, these obligations continue for the duration of the child’s or parents’ lives.

Obtaining continuing support for a special needs non-minor child is not typically something that occurs automatically in Illinois. Under the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act, a special petition for non-minor support must be filed and approved by the court to obtain financial support of an adult child with a disability. While the petition may be made either before of after the child becomes an adult, new definitions that were added in 2016 state that a “disabled” child is one who has a mental or physical “impairment that substantially limits a major life activity”. Additionally, when determining whether support should be ordered and the amount that will be ordered, courts must now consider:

  • The resources of the parents and the child
  • The ability of the parents to provide for their own future
  • Local, state, and federal or private resources that are available to the child as a result of the disablity

Increased Support for Children with Special Needs

Charts and child support guidelines do not typically address the extra expenses associated with caring for a child with special needs. To effectively develop an adequate parenting plan it is essential for lawyers for child support, parents, and possibly even financial advisors to carefully evaluate the costs that may be incurred due to specialty care, services and equipment, medications, respite care, and the effect the disability will have on the custodial parent’s ability to maintain consistent employment.