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Generally in Texas, a parent can be ordered to pay child support for his or her children until the child’s 18th birthday or the child’s high school graduation, whichever comes later. However, if the child is disabled, a trial court may order the child’s parents to provide support for the child without a limit as to age or circumstances. Texas law defines a disabled child as someone who “requires substantial care and physical supervision because of a mental or physical disability and will not be capable of self-support.” Naturally, a lot of possible circumstances can be used to meet this definition. It’s important to note that a child need not be in the care of an institution to be considered disabled, but the law does say that the disability must be discovered before the child’s 18th birthday.
To give an example that illustrates the application of the law talked about in the paragraph above, consider the ruling from In re T.A.N., No. 07-08-0483-CV (Tex. App.—Amarillo January 8, 2010, no pet.) (mem. op.). In this case, the child who was the subject of the suit had bone cancer in his left leg and subsequently was involved in an accident setting back his recovery. Evidence showed that the child’s left leg was shorter than his right leg, that the skin on the affected leg was fragile from multiple surgeries, and that these conditions would remain problems throughout the child’s life. This condition made the child unable to do everyday tasks such as putting on socks or going grocery shopping. He was also unable to walk a mile unassisted or sit for an extended period of time. Further, the pain from his condition limited his ability to concentrate. All of these factors are taken into account and allow to the court to make a big-picture assessment of the type of medical needs that await this child in the future.
Evidence also showed the expenses of the child’s heath care. He would need several additional surgeries in his lifetime, and one past surgery had cost over $200,000. The child’s uninsured medical costs were $60,000-$70,000 a year. He also had to buy adaptive equipment, such as his shoes which cost $1,000 a pair. These financial burdens were certainly taken into account by the court when it made its’ decision to determine that this child was disabled and would need extra support.
The support obligor (person ordered to pay the child support) argued that there was not enough evidence to support a finding that his son was disabled because there were long periods of time during which his son did not need substantial care of personal supervision and was able to care for himself. Yet the trial court determined because of the child’s substantial medical expenses, the evidence was sufficient to establish that he was financially incapable of self-support—at least until he graduates from college and finds a job that he could perform—and thus disabled under the laws in the Texas Family Code. Though the court acknowledged there were times when the child did not need substantial care or personal supervision, the court pointed out that the law does not require a child be in need of continuous care before the statute considers him/her to be disabled.