Notes from the Courts: Child Support Required for Certain Adult Children

As our children return to school in the fall, most of us experience a sense of optimism about their growth as they move toward adulthood and independence. In Maryland, adulthood is attained when a person reaches the age of 18 years and parents are generally no longer legally obligated to provide financial support for their children. (Maryland’s child support statute may require parents to provide financial support for their children until they graduate from high school or reach the age of 19 years at the latest. This situation occurs typically if a child has a birthday at the end of the calendar year following high school graduation in the spring.)
Not all parents, however, are free from the legal obligation of child support after a child reaches the chronological age of an adult. As we are reminded in the recent case decided by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals in Zahn v. Zahn, in certain situations, a parent must support an adult child if the adult child is destitute and the parent has sufficient means to provide that support. In Maryland’s Family Law Article, an adult destitute child is defined as one who has no means of subsistence and cannot be self-supporting due to mental or physical infirmity. In the Zahn case, the adult child in question, Douglas, was diagnosed with a host of psychological disorders, including autism spectrum disorder, anxiety, oppositional defiance disorder, and attention deficit disorder. After graduating from high school, he received services from the state of Maryland.
Upon evaluating the evidence provided by both parents and a vocational expert at trial, the Court of Special Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision and concluded that Douglas was indeed a destitute adult child who had no means of subsistence and who could not be self-supporting due to a mental or physical infirmity. Even so, the court noted that only the current resources available to the adult child would be a part of the court’s analysis. In so doing, the door remains open for modification of a child support order if circumstances change and the adult destitute child obtains employment or resources in the future.