Divorce is never easy, especially when children are involved. But if you have a child with special needs, divorce and child support may become much more complicated, and in Ohio, child support may not end when the child turns 18. Your child may be a “Castle” child and protected by Ohio law.
What is a Castle Child?
A Castle child is one who may not be able to support themselves after they have reached adulthood, when most child support payments usually end. The name “Castle child” came about as a result of an Ohio supreme court ruling in the case of Castle v. Castle which found that parents have a moral and legal obligation to support children who may not be able to support themselves once they have reached legal age.
The Castle case was settled in 1984 but is now much more than a legal precedent. It was codified into Ohio law in 2001. The law provides protection for children who have physical or mental limitations prior to the age of legal majority (usually 18). Child support for these children can be extended past the age of emancipation if the disabilities existed prior to that time.
Establishing a Castle Child designation
If both parties do not agree that support will be needed indefinitely, it may take a court order to have a child declared a Castle child. This can typically be done when support orders are being issued, unless the disability occurs sometime between the divorce and the child reaching the age of legal majority. In that case, the residential parent may need to go back to court to have the original order modified. In either case, it’s important to have an attorney who is familiar with Castle so the child’s needs are accurately documented and addressed.
It’s more than monthly support
In addition to monthly child support payments, there are other items to consider when a Castle child is involved in a divorce. Medical expenses may be much higher than they are for other children. How will those be divided? What about life insurance? A court may order that the party obliged to pay child support maintain a life insurance policy that is sufficient to cover the needs of the child in the event that the parent passes away. In fact, both parents may be ordered by the court to maintain a certain amount of life insurance. If your child is in some type of treatment program, whether that’s therapy or a camp, etc., providing for that coverage should also be covered in the final support order.
Government Benefits for Castle Children
There may be some programs available for children with certain disabilities, but some of them may be income based. An attorney who has experience with the Castle ruling can help you structure your support order with this in mind, so that your child can continue to get the benefits they need. The last thing either parent would want is to see their monthly child support payment end up disqualifying their child from receiving exceptional care.
Standard child support orders will likely dictate which parent has the final word when it comes to medical decisions. But if you have a Castle child, one of you will need to be appointed as the legal guardian after the child turns 18, and you should start the legal proceedings to formalize this long before the child turns 18. This may also apply to decisions about the child’s education, depending on their mental and physical abilities and the programs available to them in your area.
Schedule a Free Consultation
It’s important that you seek advice from a qualified divorce attorney if you have a child with special needs and believe they are a Castle child. Let the experienced attorneys at Kirkland & Sommers help you ensure that all of your child’s needs are addressed in the final support order. Give us a call today or click the link below to schedule an appointment at our West Chester or Centerville office today!