Under What Circumstances Will a Court Order Child Support for an Adult Child?


Typically, when we think of child support, we think about children before they reach the age of adulthood and leave home to pursue independent lives on their own. While this is the norm for most families in the United States, there are important exceptions to this scenario that the law is required to address. If, for example, a child has a physical and/or mental disability that precludes him or her from achieving independence in adulthood, the court can order ongoing child support that follows him or her into the adult years. If you have child support concerns, an experienced family law attorney can help.

No Set End-Date

The law recognizes that parents have an important responsibility to continue supporting those children who are unable to support themselves – due to developmental, health, and/or physical impediments. When a child who has reached adulthood is left without the necessary means to support himself or herself, the child’s parents are expected to contribute financially (to the best of their ability to do so).

Typically, the reason that precludes these children from supporting themselves in adulthood is a systemic concern that is not likely to remedy itself or to disappear, such as a significant developmental disability, and as such, there is no established end date or even a timeline when it comes to supporting adult dependent children.

Calculating Child Support for an Adult Child

The calculation process for child support of an adult child is very much like the one used for minor children. To begin, the court will take the following basics into consideration:

  • Whom the adult child lives with primarily (or how much time each parent spends with the child)
  • Each parent’s relative ability to pay child support (child support payments are calculated in accordance with each parent’s earnings, in relation to one another)

From here, the court will factor in other considerations that can include:

  • Daily living expenses (including extraordinary expenses)
  • Tax implications
  • Retirement savings
  • Additional financial variables

The court will take a careful look at both parents’ overall financials in making important decisions related to child support for adult children.

If Your Child Does Not Live at Home

In some cases, an adult child who requires child support can live independently or somewhat independently but is not capable of earning a sufficient living. Even though the adult child does not live with either parent, child support can still play a role. Child support is typically paid by the parent with the visitation schedule (or by the parent who sees the child less often) to the primary custodial parent, and the payments are put towards the child’s support.

When the child is an adult, however, the funds belong directly to him or her (even though the custodial parent generally manages them). If the adult child is living elsewhere, however, child support payments can remain in effect (and are more likely to apply to both parents).

The Court’s Charge

The court is responsible for making determinations regarding when it is appropriate to order child support for adult children, and toward this end, they typically use a two-pronged approach.

Incapacitated from Earning a Living

If the child is incapacitated from earning a living, it means that he or she is unable to find work, earn a living, and support himself or herself due to a physical disability, a mental disability, and/or another factor that is beyond the individual’s control.

Without Sufficient Means of Support

If the child is without sufficient means of support, it means that he or she lacks the financial means to pay for the necessities of daily living that amount to support, including room and board, medical care, and beyond.

When Child Support Is Warranted?

When both prongs are satisfied, child support for the adult child is generally warranted. When the child’s parents have the means to support him or her, the court is likely to order child support to ensure that the child can continue living a well-supported life – without becoming a public charge. The reasoning behind child support for a disabled adult child is quite sound, and if you have encountered an obstacle or concern regarding your adult child’s need for child support, it is time to consult with a dedicated family law attorney.

Parent, Legal Guardian, or Conservator

Sometimes, an adult child has a legal guardian or conservator, and in these instances, child support payments flow through this individual. A guardian or conservator owes the adult child for whom he or she is responsible a fiduciary responsibility, which includes not misappropriating incoming funds, such as child support. While a parent can be assigned the role of legal guardian or conservator, if the child simply lives with one parent, the court typically finds that it makes the most sense for this parent to manage the child’s support funds (without needing to become a legal guardian).


In some situations, adult children receive Social Security or Medicaid benefits, and it is important to find a balance between these benefits and the influx of income – such as child support payments – to help protect the recipients’ eligibility. When child support is factored in, it can lower the amount of benefits the recipient receives – or can even leave the recipient ineligible for such benefits. In these situations, a special needs trust in which child support payments are funneled is often a better option.  

Your Situation

Your adult child’s child support needs are unique to him or her and to the situation involved. Although child support is calculated in careful accordance with the state’s guidelines, the court maintains considerable discretion in the matter. As such, calculating child support can be extremely complicated in the best of times, but if your child requires ongoing child support into adulthood, the matter is more complicated still. If this is the situation you find yourself in, you owe it to your child’s future to work closely with a knowledgeable family law attorney.