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State Supreme Court Looks Twice at Child Support Decision

The question of divorced parents providing financial support to a child who is unable to self-support can be complicated. Child support laws in Texas protect children whether they are disabled or perfectly healthy. The situation is more complex, however, when a child reaches majority age but remains in need of financial support. Loving parents often work out a way to provide for their child without legal intervention. If that isn’t possible, petitioning the courts is the option to undertake.

While individual state laws govern child support and alimony in divorce cases, a Mississippi Supreme Court case reached conclusions on questions that are presently being re-heard. In 2011, a woman appealed to the Court seeking modification of child support and alimony from her ex-husband to provide support for their medically ailing son. He was over 21 years of age. Because nothing in state law requires parents to support adult children, nor had any law been passed requiring parents to pay support for adult disabled children, the claim was denied in a 5-4 decision.

Reportedly, the question is again before that state’s Supreme Court based on a similar case originating in a different county. The interesting twist this time is the justices have added their own question, which hasn’t been introduced before: Does denial of child support to children of majority age who cannot take care of themselves violate the 14th Amendment? They are looking for the parties to argue whether equal protection under the law provides authority to judges to order child support for an adult disabled child despite legislative statutory limits.

In the first case, the dissenting opinion was based on the child’s lack of emancipation at age 21, giving the lower court the authority to order child support. The opposite view is that the power rests with the legislature. Regardless of the legal positions in question at present, working out the best solutions to meet the needs of the child and his or her caregiver requires the utmost careful consideration and planning for the future.