Ordinarily, a child support order terminates when the child reaches the age of 18 or graduates from high school. However, many parents aren’t blessed with children that can leave the home when they reach adulthood. In 1984, the Ohio Supreme Court recognized these special children in the case Castle v. Castle, 15 Ohio St.3d 279 (1984). In Castle, the Court held that parents have a moral and legal obligation to support their children beyond the age of majority if those children are unable to care for themselves due to mental or physical limitations. Children who fell under the protections of this law became known as “Castle children.”
The Law is Codified
In 2001, the Ohio legislature codified the Castle doctrine when it enacted O.R.C. § 3119.86. That law provides that child support can be extended for children who have physical or mental limitations. However, the child must be mentally or physically disabled prior to the child’s age of emancipation. Ideally, the parents should agree and obtain a court order continuing the support beyond the child’s 18th birthday. It is important that findings regarding the child’s limitations be included into a court order prior to the child’s emancipation to avoid questions that may arise later. Unfortunately, some parents look to stop supporting their children at age 18 whether a child is disabled or not.
Ohio Courts Can Vary
Although the rationale espoused in Castle seems to be a matter of common sense, Ohio courts have not applied the law consistently. Some courts have permitted adult “child-support” for special needs children while other courts have not. It is important for parents of a special needs child to proactively address the issue if you believe that your child’s disability may limit his or her ability to live independently in the future.
If your marriage has failed and you have a special needs child, it is important that you talk to an attorney who has experience with the Castle doctrine. Please call the family law attorneys at Wuliger & Wuliger at (216) 781-7777 so that we can assist you.