Unfortunately, the answer is, “it depends.” In North Carolina, parents are only legally obligated to support their children until they graduate from high school or turn 20, whichever comes first. However, your custody order may contain an agreement that support will last longer than that.
Parents who have children with serious disabilities should negotiate how support will work at the time of their breakup or divorce.
The basics of the end of child support
According to North Carolina law, parents are no longer obligated to financially support their children once:
- The child turns 18 and graduates from high school
- The child turns 20, If they remain in school or stop attending
- The child is in a cooperative innovative high school and turns 18 or completes four years of the program, whichever comes later
The parent who is paying child support can file a motion to modify to terminate support once one of these conditions is met. If that parent owes child support arrears at that time, they must still pay those off.
Your child support order can require more, but be cautious
If you and your ex agree that additional support should be paid, you can include that in your child support order. This is common, for example, when both parents want their kids to go to college or when the child has special needs.
In the case of a child with a disability, be sure to consider what the role of the additional child support will be. For example, are you planning on the support to be indefinite and pay for all of your adult child’s living expenses and any required care? Or, were you considering applying for disability aid, such as the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program through Social Security?
It’s important to understand that ongoing child support payments could make your adult child ineligible for SSI. Likewise, a large monetary gift or inheritance could disqualify them from the program.
If your goal is to provide additional income or a nest egg for your adult child that you intend to be above and beyond what is allowed by SSI’s income limits, you may be interested in setting up a special needs trust in their name. This type of trust allows an adult with disabilities to have a little extra money to go towards services for their disability without disqualifying them from the SSI they rely on for living expenses.
If you have questions about ongoing support for an adult child with a disability, it’s important to work with a compassionate attorney who will go the extra mile to find the help you need.