Oklahoma provides for continuing financial support of adult children who are physically or mentally disabled. A special statute sets standards to decide when such support should apply. Oklahoma’s Court of Appeals recently explored the scope and limits of child support for disabled adult children.
The parents in Patrick v. Patrick had two minor children when they divorced. The oldest child turned 18 and graduated high school. He was living independently in an apartment paid for by his father when he was arrested and charged with felony DUI. The child voluntarily entered into drug and alcohol rehab to reduce his criminal punishment. Dad assumed responsibility for the adult son’s hefty rehab bills. Six years after the divorce, and 2 years after the child became an adult, father filed a motion asking the court to order mother to help pay the rehab bills.
The trial court ordered Mother to help. The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals reversed, saying father’s evidence did not meet the standards of the special statute governing support for adult children. To make an award under 43 O.S. §112.1A states the court must find:
b. the disability exists, or the cause of the disability is known to exist, on or before the eighteenth birthday of the child.”
The Court of Appeals found father’s evidence lacking in both respects.
First, the court found father did not prove the child had a physical or mental disability. Drug and alcohol dependency is not a disability, according to the Court. Assuming it was a disability, father still did not prove the child unable to support himself. The child had been living independently before rehab, and entered rehab voluntarily. There was no evidence the child could not sustain himself after rehab. The trial court failed to focus on whether the evidence demonstrated the child lacked the ability to find work or become self-supporting in light of his alleged mental or physical disability.
Second. There was no evidence in the record showing the child’s disability existed on or before the child’s 18th birthday. Father claimed Mother’s use of alcohol around the child and an alcohol-permissive atmosphere in her home while the child was a minor contributed to the child’s condition as an adult. The Court found no evidence the child “required substantial care and supervision due to his substance abuse before he reached majority.”
The Patrick case teaches us that child support for an adult disabled child requires a party to prove the following:
- The child suffers from a qualifying physical or mental disability;
- The disability requires substantial care and personal supervision;
- The child is unable to sustain himself or herself as a direct result of the disability, and;
- The disability, or cause of the disability, is known before the child turns 18.