A recent ruling from the state Supreme Court has opened the door to creativity in the support methods for adult disabled children of divorce, family lawyers in New Jersey report. In August, the court allowed a father to establish a trust for his disabled son’s benefit, as a means of providing child support after the divorce. This opportunity gives parents options when establishing how best to provide for their dependent children who are unable to live on their own.
In J.B. v. W.B., the state Supreme Court reversed a decision from the lower courts that rejected a trust arrangement set up for care of a 25-year-old autistic man living in a group home. When determining how best to provide for their son, both parents agreed that he would most likely be unable to live on his own or emancipate himself from his parents’ care because of his autism. The father, Jonathan, asked the courts to consider a trust for his son’s support, claiming that he was now living on reduced income, and feared that in the event of his death, his son’s inheritance would not be enough to support him for the duration of his own lifetime.
Wendy, the boy’s mother, had no objection to establishing a trust, as long as Jonathan maintained his annual current support payment of $50,000, as well as the cost of all medical and educational care, and the son’s various other expenses. In the lower courts, the judges determined that Jonathan had not demonstrated how a trust arrangement would best serve his son, and accused the father of rearranging the terms to his own benefit. On appeal, Jonathan and his family lawyers in New Jersey argued that the trust was an acknowledgement that although Jonathan’s financial circumstances may change, the trust fund would always be a source of wealth for his son.
In New Jersey, child support does not stop at a predetermined age. Once a child turns 18, or becomes financially independent, the paying parent can file papers asking the court to terminate his or her child support obligation. The child is then considered emancipated, and the court will decide whether financial help is still needed. In most court cases, all children under 18 are considered to be in need of financial support to help with tuition, medical costs, and other living expenses.
A trust set up for a disabled child’s benefit can eliminate the time frame for support payments, New Jersey family attorneys say. If divorced parents are willing to set aside funds in this arrangement, the child will not be left with a limited inheritance, in the event of a parent’s retirement, change in job, or even death. If a divorced parent can prove that a trust will offer better financial protection for a special needs child, judges can incorporate that arrangement into the divorce proceedings.
At New Jersey law firm Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, P.A., our family attorneys represent divorcing parents who need to ensure long-term financial protection for their children with special needs and disabilities.