Can I Ask a Judge to Extend Support Obligations Beyond My Child’s 18th Birthday?
It is well understood that parents have a legal obligation to financially support their children until they reach the age of 18. However, if the child is mentally or physically incapacitated, a court may order one or both parents to provide support “beyond the age of 18 years” under Florida law. In other cases, a parent may also be required to provide support until the child’s 19th birthday if they are still enrolled in high school and are on track to graduate.
Court Rules Mother Properly Requested Extension of Child Support
With respect to support for incapacitated adult children, Florida courts have addressed the question of whether a parent may ask for modification of an existing support order–such as child support ordered in conjunction with a divorce proceeding–or whether a new petition must be filed. The most recent example of this came from the Florida Fifth District Court of Appeal in Phagan ex rel. LDP v. McDuffee. In this case from Volusia County, the mother of a now-20-year-old child filed a paternity action in 2001 against the purported biological father.
A judge ultimately confirmed paternity and ordered the father to pay child support. In 2006, the parents agreed to a modified support order that said the father would pay support until the child turned 18 “or so long as the child is dependent.” Four days before the child’s 18th birthday, the mother filed a supplemental petition to establish the child was “dependent” and require the father to provide continuing support into adulthood.
The father objected, arguing the court lacked jurisdiction to modify the 2006 order in this manner. The trial court agreed, noting that the father had fulfilled his obligations and the child had not been “adjudicated dependent” prior to her 18th birthday. The court therefore dismissed the mother’s petition.
On appeal, the Fifth District reversed. It explained that the trial court had jurisdiction to hear the mother’s petition because the law only required it be filed before the child’s 18th birthday, which it was in this case. Had the child already turned 18, then she would need to bring a separate action against her parents to establish ongoing child support. Furthermore, nothing in the 2006 order “required the Mother to obtain a dependency determination for [the child] before she turned 18 in order to extend child support.”
Note the Fifth District did not actually grant the mother’s petition to extend child support. It simply said the trial judge had the authority to consider the mother’s request. The appeals court therefore returned the case to the lower court for further proceedings.
Speak with a Florida Child Support Attorney Today
If you are the parent of a child who may be dependent beyond their 18th birthday, it is important to be proactive in establishing the respective obligations of you and the other parent. A qualified Boca Raton child support lawyer can help. Contact WiseLieberman, PLLC, at 561-488-7788 today, to speak with a member of our family law team.