Chapter 767 in the Wisconsin State Statutes, titled “Actions Affecting the Family” deals with various issues including child custody and support. Specifically, the current laws cover children until they either reach 18, or in the case of those still in high school, until they graduate or turn 19 – whichever comes first.
According to an analysis by the non-partisan Legislative Reference Bureau, “Under current law, when a court enters a judgment of annulment, divorce, or legal separation, in addition to other specified circumstances, such as in a paternity action, the court must order either or both parents of a minor child to pay an amount that is reasonable or necessary to fulfill a duty to support the minor child.”
However, there is nothing in statute relating to support payments for dependent disabled adult children of divorce. Too often, the parent with custody undergoes financial hardship once child support ceases.
State statutes define developmental disability as: “a disability attributable to brain injury, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, autism, Prader-Willi syndrome, mental retardation, or another neurological condition closely related to mental retardation or requiring treatment similar to that required for individuals with mental retardation, which has continued or can be expected to continue indefinitely and constitutes a substantial handicap to the afflicted individual.”
Physical disability is defined in state statute as: “a physical condition, including an anatomical loss or musculoskeletal, neurological, respiratory or cardiovascular impairment, which results from injury, disease or congenital disorder and which significantly interferes with or significantly limits at least one major life activity of a person.”
I’ve co-sponsored legislation introduced by Rep. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, which will expand current law in regards to financial responsibility of dependent adult children. Courts would be authorized to order support payments for an adult disabled child if the disability – or the cause for the disability – existed before the adult child’s 18th birthday.
Depending on each situation, the support would be determined in the same manner and by the same criteria as the court currently does for a minor child. The payments would be either for a finite or indefinite time period without regard to whether or not the adult child is institutionalized.
Wisconsin is currently only 1 of 9 states which relieves parents of all responsibility for their adult children, regardless of the circumstance. Adding the needs of adult disabled children to the “Actions Affecting the Family” statutes essentially places their financial responsibility onto one or both parents instead of potentially forcing the custodial parent to turn to government for aid.
As a state, we must protect and provide financial support to our most vulnerable citizens. However, almost every other state has asserted that if a parent has the financial means to care for his or her dependent disabled adult child, it is their responsibility to do so.