The Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled in the case of Vaida v. Vaida, 86 Mass. App. Ct. 601 (2014) that a father did not have to pay child support for his adult physically disabled child. At first glance, this case seems to establish that a physically disabled child can’t collect child support once the child reaches age 23. A closer examination convinces me that this case should not be considered precedent.
In Vaida, the child was a quadriplegic as a result of reckless conduct of the father. The father had been sued and settled the case for 3.5 million dollars. A settlement agreement and releases were executed. The prior settlement is a barrier to collecting child support from the father. Will the result be the same if there is no prior settlement?
Massachusetts allows child support to be collected for an adult child that is under a mental disability and has a court appointed guardian. Feinberg v. Diamant, 378 Mass. 131 (1979) and Eccleston v. Bankosky, 438 Mass. 428 (2003). With both mentally disabled children and physically disabled children the children need to be supported by others. In both cases, the children are unable to earn sufficient money to support themselves. The children must be supported by either the parents or government. If the parents have the ability to support the adult children, then they should do so instead of having taxpayers paying for the care of the children. I see no logical reason for parents of mentally disabled children to pay child support but not parents of physically disabled children.
There is a legal maxim that states “bad facts make bad law.” The Vaida case contains bad facts of the prior settlement. Hopefully, the next time that a case with this issue is litigated the courts will give the question a fresh look and not rely on the Vaida case. The Vaida case suggests that if the mentally competent but physically incompetent adult child was under a guardianship that the result could be different. A parent in this unfortunate situation could try placing the child under guardianship and then file for child support. This is a drastic step but it could sway a judge and result in a child support order.
If you have a case involving an adult disabled child you should consult an experienced family law attorney.