In a recently published opinion out of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, the trial court ruled that the earnings of an unemancipated child do not relieve parents of their support obligations and may not be the basis for a support deviation. (Temple  v. O’Neal, decided 8/4/2008).  The decision has been appealed to Pennsylvania Superior Court.

The facts before the trial court reveal that the “child” was 22 years old who resides in a institution and has been institutionalized most of his life due to a “profound mental disability.”  Despite this, the child is able to perform some menial labor and receives some remuneration for his work.  Father alleges that the child’s minimal compensation, coupled with the state grants which pay for his child’s care, are sufficient to establish the child as emancipated and thus father should no longer be required to support the child.  To the contrary, the court concluded the child was unable to live independently and therefore was not emancipated. The court further ruled the child’s earnings must sufficiently support the child before emancipation can be considered.  The child’s earnings were not sufficient in this case.

While the holding of this case may only apply to special needs children, commonsense (and sound legal advice) should tell you that support of a special needs child will extend well beyond that child’s 18th birthday and, often times, will last for the life of the child.  Parents of special needs children should be aware of, and prepare for, support for their special needs children well into their adult ages.