In general, an adult child cannot typically single-handedly file a lawsuit against a parent for unpaid child support. However, as will be described below in further detail, there may still be a couple of ways that a child can sue for back child support.
Additionally, there is also one scenario that will be discussed where a parent may have to pay or owe child support, even though their child has reached adulthood.
What is a Lawsuit for Child Support in Arrears?
An adult child may be able to sue a parent for child support in arrears if they are the designated executor or representative of their custodial parent’s estate. In terms of child support, “in arrears” simply means that a parent has failed to make child support payments and now owes back child support.
Briefly, child support in arrears may either be assigned or unassigned. Assigned child support in arrears means that the missed payments will be paid to the state. This is done as a form of reimbursement for when the state paid for any of the missing child support payments that the child required for daily survival.
In contrast, unassigned child support in arrears payments refers to the amount that will have to be paid back to the custodial parent who covered the missing amounts when the non-custodial parent failed to pay, so long as a child support waiver did not exist.
Returning to the issue at hand, if there was a child support court order in place before the minor turned 18 years old (note that in some states, other age restrictions may apply), either the custodial parent can sue, or the adult child who represents the estate of the custodial parent can sue for back child support.
What are Some Issues with Lawsuits for Child Support in Arrears?
The laws regarding back child support often vary widely from one state to the next. In fact, some states even have a statute of limitations in place for how a long person has to enforce a child support court order. This period will usually be based on the amount of time that has passed before the child is considered an adult.
The following are some other issues to consider before filing a lawsuit for child support in arrears:
- The court who initially ordered the child support payments must have also issued a prior judgment regarding the payments;
- This judgment must be permitted via state law to merge with the custodial parent’s estate;
- The parent who is said to be “in arrears” must still owe the custodial parent that child support;
- The court must have appointed the adult child to become the representative or executor of the custodial parent’s estate; and
- If the adult child is not appointed executor by the court, then the custodial parent must have named them as the designated representative in the terms of their will.
When is Child Support Owed to an Adult Child?
While most orders for child support usually terminate either when the child reaches the age of majority (usually 18 years old), graduates from high school, or becomes emancipated (i.e., free from the authority of their parents), there is one exception. Child support may still be owed to an adult child if they have a disability that prevents them from earning a living and supporting themselves on their own.
This exception covers anything from having a physical or mental disability, including a chronic mental illness, such as schizophrenia. However, the focus is not actually on the exact type of disability they have. Instead, courts will consider whether the adult child will be able to take care of themselves without further financial support and supervision.
In such instances, the court will calculate the amount of child support that is owed in the same way as they would calculate it for a minor. Additionally, the court will also consider whether the adult child receives any financial support from the government in order to supplement their income.
Thus, if a person has an adult child who has been diagnosed with a mental or physical disability and they have not been paying child support, then their adult child or their adult child’s guardian may be able to sue that parent for any child support that is owed.
Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer for Help with Unpaid Child Support Issues?
As discussed above, many factors may come into play in regard to family law cases involving child support payments. In such cases, the differences between varying state laws may only serve to complicate these issues further.
Therefore, if you are having issues obtaining child support or are in a dispute regarding child support payments, then you may want to speak to a local child support lawyer for further legal advice.
An experienced child support lawyer can assist you in determining whether you have a supportable claim, can help you file your case, and can discuss the potential remedies and outcomes that may occur once the case is finalized.
In addition, your lawyer can also help walk you through the numerous state laws and restrictions that may apply. Finally, a lawyer will be able to provide representation in court on your behalf for the matter.