Can My Child Support Order Extend Past My Child’s 18th Birthday?

Gavel with two gold wedding bands on it.

When sharing a child and you and your partner separate, it is common to have a child support order in place. “The court may at any time order either or both parents who owe a duty of support to a child to pay support to the other parent or… to a third party who has custody.” (61.13) This support is to be used to financially provide for the child’s needs. Florida law provides strict guidelines and regulations in regards to the amount of child support and termination dates of such support. Being aware of the termination of this support is critical to the financial stability of your family and may be discussed with your lawyer.

Typically, child support will be ordered to terminate by the court, on the child’s 18th birthday or the child’s 19th birthday if the child is still enrolled in high school. This support may also terminate in other extraordinary circumstances. These circumstances include: when a child gets married prior to reaching the age of majority or is deemed emancipated by a court. However, if you wish to extend the length of a child support order, the court allows for an extension if a child is diagnosed with special needs and is deemed dependent. The marriage of a child and emancipation is rare and fairly straightforward. However, a child’s disabilities and qualifications of incapacity may be a little more difficult to gauge. Your custody attorney can assist you in evaluating your case and appealing to the court if your child qualifies under this statute.

Florida statute 743.07, provides the court with the jurisdiction to order “support for a dependent person beyond the age of 18 years when such dependency is because of a mental or physical incapacity which began prior to such person reaching majority.” However, the statute does not provide a guideline for a determination of incapacity. Courts can look to prior case law for guidance. For instance, in the case of Hanley v Hanley, 734 So. 2d 529 (Fla. 4th DCA 1999), the court awarded child support to continue past the child’s 18th birthday due to his special needs, including learning disabilities, that required special schooling. However, courts have since tended to only require continued support in cases they deem as “severe.” This includes children who have debilitating physical limitations, such as a brain impairment, that prevent them from being able to financially or physically provide for themselves. It is important to know your child’s specific diagnosis, abilities and limitations when approaching this situation. Discuss with your child’s doctor their opinions and be able to provide your attorney with an accurate prognosis.

As your child’s 18th birthday comes closer, you will have to make preparations not only to handle their ongoing needs without the benefit of monthly child support but request ongoing support if their needs will not change when they become legal adults. It will be your attorney’s goal to identify the specific needs of your child and ensure they are met. Discussing your individual case with a lawyer will help to guide the decisions that you make in regard to the ongoing care of the children in your custody.

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