Long-range support and the child with severe autism

Usually, child support in California ends when the child turns 18 (unless he or she is a full-time student, in which case it can continue until he or she is age 19). In some rare cases, a support agreement might call for one or both parents to support the child through a four-year college degree.

However, what happens when the child is never going to be capable of being self-supporting due to a pervasive developmental disability, like severe autism?

In that case, support may require long-range planning -- which may include things other than just economic decisions. This can be hard for parents who are married to work through, but when parents are divorced they may have even more difficulty deciding what to do.

Here are some things that need to be considered as early as possible when you have a child with severe autism:

-- Is the child eligible for Supplemental Security Income benefits while still a minor, or will the income of his or her parents preclude that benefit?

-- Once the child turns 18, he or she should file for Supplemental Security Benefits. When a parent begins to collect a benefit, the child should be entitled as a Disabled Adult Child on that parent's benefit record.

-- Should support be adjusted downward for any of these events, and by what percentage?

-- Which parent will be required (if either) to pay the child's health insurance through the maximum age for dependents?

-- Which parent, if either, will assume responsibility as the child's financial payee for any government benefits?

-- Will the child require a legal guardian after he or she turns 18? If so, will the parent who has primary physical custody at the time of the divorce assume that role?

-- What benefits should each parent be required to put into a special needs trust for the child's future maintenance?

All of these are questions that have to be considered even during the parent's divorce -- because they will come back to be an issue fairly quickly. For help working through the difficulty of a divorce that requires extensive long-range support planning due to a child with severe autism, contact a California family law attorney for advice.

Source: Autism Speaks, "Legal Matters to Consider," accessed April 06, 2017

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