Child Support & Special Needs Trusts

In Tennessee, child support typically ends when a child turns 18 or graduates from high school, whichever happens last. When a child has a disability, however, a parent’s responsibility to contribute support may continue, even beyond the age of 19.

Tennessee has a statute which allows a court to continue child support beyond a child’s minority for the benefit of a child who is handicapped or disabled, as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act, until the child reaches twenty-one (21) years of age.1

The statute also provides for child support to be continued past the age of twenty-one (21) if all of the following conditions are met:

    1. The child is severely disabled and living under the care and supervision of a parent.
    2. The court determines that it is in the child’s best interest to remain under such care and supervision.
    3. The person obligated to pay child support is financially able to continue to pay child support.
    4. The child was severely disabled before reaching the age of 18.2

The statute does not specifically define “severely disabled”, but Tennessee courts have found that a determination of whether a particular person is “severely disabled” requires an individualized assessment of how that person’s physical and mental impairments affect his or her ability to live independently.

If child support is continued past the age of 18, it is considered income to the disabled adult and may disqualify them from receiving Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) and other government benefits. To avoid this, the child support order should direct that the child support be paid directly into a Special Needs Trust that has been established for the benefit of the disabled adult.

The Special Needs Law Center has worked with many families to establish Special Needs Trusts to receive the child support payments and can work with divorce attorneys to assist in modifying child support orders to allow the child to continue to receive benefits along with child support.

1 Tennessee Code Annotated 36-5-101 (k)(1)
2 Tennessee Code Annotated 36-5-101 (k)(2)