Does mental illness matter when it comes to child support?

Its no secret that mental illness is a huge problem today.  It becomes even more of a problem when the person at issue is a child and the parents have on going child support dispute.  Although not really a mental illness, autism creates the same problems in child support cases.  Best yet, New Jersey has the highest rates of autism.

One instance where this issue comes up is testing and treatment of the mental health issue.  I haven’t seen this become too much of an issue as it is hard to argue that the testing or treatment is not needed or unnecessary.

Instead, the debate usually focuses on emancipation.  This is an interesting issue that has not really been tested in recent times (at least not to the extent that you would think).  In order to  receive child support for life, courts generally rely on a 1960’s case where the adult child was placed in the type of institution that would probably never exist today.  However, when someone is that bad, they usually on disability anyway.  Thus, the fight in these cases generally centers on whether the custodial parent should be applying for disability on behalf of the adult child.

The real debate to be had though comes when the adult child cannot get disability.  This creates a quirk in our law that is not really developed yet although it somehow works out.  Emancipation is only proper when the child has moved beyond the influence of the parent.  But what if the child has a mental illness that prevents that?  In those cases, courts seem to force the child to go to college full time or risk emancipation. 

I think this issue is ripe for appeal.  Not so that the status quo is changed but so that the law on emancipation is clarified.  Any parent that tries to drag out child support forever will face an uphill battle.

I’ve been on both sides of this issue, so regardless of what side you are on, give me a call.


Posted on August 30, 2009, in My Practice. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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