A common perception is that a child support order can only be placed upon a non-residential parent until the child reaches the age of 19 or graduates from high school, whichever is later. That perception is based upon a presumption that the child has grown into a typical adult. But many parents aren’t blessed with children that can leave the home. In 1984, the Ohio Supreme Court recognized these special children in the seminal 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. The Castle case followed a trend among many states throughout the country. 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 law established in Castle v. Castle 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 prior to reaching the age of majority. Although O.R.C. § 3119.86 provided some measure of protection for Castle children, parents should be aware of how the law has been interpreted and applied. For instance, the child must be mentally or physically disabled prior to the child’s age of emancipation. Further, the parents must agree to continue the support beyond the child’s 19th birthday, or the support must be required by court order. It is important that findings regarding the child’s limitations be incorporated into a court order prior to the special needs child’s emancipation to avoid questions that may arise post-decree.
Ohio Courts Can Vary
Although the policies behind the Castle doctrine are really not the subject of debate, courts in Ohio have not applied the law as even handedly as one might expect. Some districts have permitted the award of adult “child-support” for special needs children while other districts have not. Accordingly, it is vital for a parent of a special needs child to proactively address the issue of whether you will need child-support for a child who has disabilities that may limit their ability to care for themselves or 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.