Wisconsin law does not require parents to pay child support after a child graduates high school. This is true even if the child is disabled, in college, or otherwise cannot care for himself. Once a child graduates high school, he is legally on is own. The family court has no authority to require parents to support him. Even if parents agree to do so, it is not particularly easy to draft legally enforceable child support agreements for adult children.
Separated parents can, if they wish, agree to support children after they reach majority. This is usually through agreements requiring separated parents to contribute to college expenses. This is certainly a laudable goal. However, it is difficult to plan for such considerable expenses far in the future. For example, if a parent’s income decreases, he/she will likely still be liable to pay a child’s college expenses, if the divorce or other separation agreement so states.
Agreements to support an adult child, even through college, must be very carefully drafted and specified. Otherwise, though rare, parents can actually be sued to pay their share of college cost. This recently happened in New Jersey.
Although no states, to my knowledge, require parents to pay for children’s college, some require parents to pay for disabled adult children. Wisconsin does not, which certainly can create problems. For example, without child support, a disabled child must rely on state aid.
Another issue can arise if only one parent is willing to continue to support the child. Without an obligation on both parents, one parent can unilaterally evade any responsibility for a disabled adult child. The responsibility then falls on the other parent or the state (and taxpayers).
I have often wondered if a revision to child support would be beneficial to at least provide the possibility that parents share responsibility for assisting disabled adult children. On one hand, such a law could obligate parents to support a child for her entire life. On the other hand, parents would be more closely invested in disabled children’s care, and the state’s responsibility for care would be reduced.
I would be happy to hear from anyone who has an opinion on this matter.