The attorneys at Plog & Stein, P.C. deal with simple and intricate matters related to child support. Though most child support cases are fairly black-and-white, with incomes and other factors which lead to a child support calculation and monthly figure being apparent, there are instances in which deviations from the norm are warranted under statute. One such instance relates to children with special needs and the financial ramifications that may ensue as a result of such, and as per statute.
Specifically, C.R.S. 14-10-115, the general Colorado child support statute, sets forth two instances in which a child’s disability may impact child support. One such instance relates to when the duty to pay child support terminates. The other concerns disability payments a child may receive from the Social Security Administration for his or her disability.
The general rule of thumb followed by Denver family law lawyers is that child support, or the duty to pay such, terminates when a child reaches 19 years of age. However, there are exceptions, one of which is that child support can extend beyond that age for a child who is “disabled.” Specifically, C.R.S. 14-10-115(13)(II) states that child support can continue “If the child is mentally or physically disabled, the court or the delegate child support enforcement unit may order child support, includng payments for medical expenses or insurance or both, to continue beyond the age of nineteen.” However, statue does not necessarily define “disabled”. In many instances, disability is readily apparent. In others, disability may not be readily seen, such as in cases of autism. Statute makes no distinction and, again, includes “mental” as well as physical. It is often the case that parents will obtain Social Security benefits for a child, which can continue after the child reaches age 19.
Most courts will take the designation of “disabled” by the Social Security Administration to be proof enough of the disability. However, some courts may take a deeper look into the factual circumstances. One can receive Social Security, yet still be able to work, function independently, go to school, etc. Each case is different from a factual standpoint and a Denver child support attorney should be able to assist in ascertaining the strengths and weaknesses of a request to extend child support beyond age 19 due to disability.
A second aspect in which the disability of a child may come into play as relates to child support also ties into Social Security. Pursuant to statute, C.R.S. 14-10-115 (11)(b) authorizes adjustments or deductions to the normal child support guideline amounts based upon “Any additional factors that actually diminish the basic needs of the child….” The most common instance in which we see this clause invoked relates to income of the child. In fact, the software that we attorneys use to calculate child support actually has a section for purposes of inputting the income of a child. This income would also include Social Security benefits received by a disabled child. Of course, the presumption is that the money received is being used to reduce the child’s basic financial needs, meaning it is being spent on essentials such as food, clothing, and shelter. This presumption is also an expectation of the Social Security Administration.
The Social Security benefits received will generally go into the child support calculation on the side or column for the person with whom the disabled child resides. By adding the income to the column, the bottom line child support amount goes down. The irony with this scenario is that as child support goes down, the Social Security payment can go up, and as the Social Security payment goes up, child support can go down. Thus, a circular pattern and logistical issue can arise. However, statute alleviates this issue somewhat by requiring a 10% or more change to the existing child support amount before a C.R.S. 14-10-122 modification of child support can occur.
When dealing with issues related to child support, Social Security, and your disabled child, it is important to know the ins and outs on the subject. Becoming aware of these intricacies should absolutely entail discussions with the Social Security Administation to learn exactly how a child support order can affect the benefit to be received.
Finally, the perplexing aspect of this analysis to us is that statute allows for the continued support of a disabled child, yet may very well authorize the lowering of that support should federal benefits be gained. At this time, there is no easy fix to the conundrum. Your child will always be your child. Some will need the financial assistance of their parents longer than others. Fortunately, the Colorado legislature recognizes this and makes allowances for such in the child support statutes.