In Colorado, if you are a parent paying or receiving child support, that child support obligation will generally terminate when the child turns nineteen years old. However, if you are the parent of a child with special needs, you may be entitled to support beyond your child’s nineteenth birthday.
Pursuant to Colorado Revised Statute 14-10-115(13)(a)(II), “(i)f the child is mentally or physically disabled, the court or the delegate child support enforcement unit may order child support, including payments for medical expenses or insurance or both, to continue beyond the age of nineteen.”
It is important to note that use of the word “may” gives the Court discretion to continue child support payments; it is not mandatory, even when the Court finds that the child is mentally or physically disabled. This discretion, coupled with the fact that Colorado Revised Statute 14-10-115 does not provide a specific definition of “disabled”, generally means that this issue will be decided on a case-by-case basis, depending on the unique facts and circumstances presented to the Court.
Colorado case law provides some insight into how Courts have examined this issue in the past. Perhaps the most cited case in this regard is Koltay v. Koltay, 667 P.2d 1374 (Colo. 1983). In this matter, the Mother requested that her daughter’s support obligation continue past the age of emancipation (19) due, in part, to the following: 1) the child was dependent on her Mother because of her physical and emotional condition, 2) the child’s physical and emotional condition prevented her from being employed or otherwise providing for herself, and 3) the child’s physical and emotional conditions caused her to be totally incapacitated.
The Court in Koltay concluded that if a child is incapable of self-support due to serious physical or mental disability, that child is not emancipated for child support purposes.
Likewise, in In re Marriage of Cropper, 895 P.2d 1158 (Colo. App. 1995), the Court determined that the child was “undisputedly” mentally disabled, and was, by agreement of the parties, incapable of financially supporting herself. Id. at 1160. Thus, the Court determined that the child was not emancipated for purposes of child support.
The parent requesting a continuation of child support has the burden of overcoming the presumption that the child, at age nineteen, is emancipated for purposes of child support. This is often not an easy task. If you are the parent of a disabled child and are concerned about the duration of child support that you are either paying or recieving, please reach out to GEM Family Law for a free consultation.
Authored by: Heather Landauer, Senior Associate Attorney