Frequently Asked Questions

Can the Family Court Order Post-Majority Support?

S.C. Code § 63-3-530(17), authorizes the family court:

to provide for child support past age eighteen where there are physical or mental disabilities of the child or other exceptional circumstances that warrant the continuation of child support beyond age eighteen for as long as the physical or mental disabilities or exceptional circumstances continue.

Four reported South Carolina appellate decisions interpret this subsection. In Crenshaw v. Thompson, 280 S.C. 203, 311 S.E.2d 742 (Ct.App. 1984), the child in question reached his 18th birthday while still a high school student. He graduated approximately five months later. Two weeks thereafter, he was severely injured in an automobile accident which rendered him totally disabled. He had planned to further his education but was unable to do so because of his disability. The family court authorized child support.

In Smith v. Doe, 366 S.C. 469, 623 S.E.2d 370, 371 (2005), involved an adult child who never emancipated. The family court established paternity and ordered child support for a thirty-four year old mentally handicapped adult, who had the mental capacity of a six-year-old. That adult child did not have the capacity to read, do math, cook, or drive. She could not be left unsupervised, and as a result, she was under childcare supervision most of the day. The condition manifested at birth and she was incapable of being emancipated. As a result of this inability to emancipate, the court authorized post-majority support.

In Riggs v. Riggs, 353 S.C. 230, 578 S.E.2d 3, 5 (2003), the Supreme Court authorized support for an adult child who never emancipated. The child suffered from “a genetic error of metabolism,” that did not manifest until she was past age eighteen. The court found the disability was not caused by some event that occurred after she reached majority. It was further uncontested that this adult child had never been emancipated and the father’s child support obligation had never been judicially terminated.

In Morris v. Morris, 335 S.C. 525, 517 S.E.2d 720, 722-23 (Ct.App. 1999), the father was ordered to pay post-majority support for one child (Lee) but not for the other (Andy). Mother appealed this issue but the Court of Appeals affirmed that issue, making the following factual findings:

In September of 1993, Gary A. Jones, a clinical psychologist, evaluated Andy, who was twenty-four years old at the time of trial, to determine whether he suffers from a learning disability. Andy obtained an IQ score of seventy-five, which Dr. Jones testified “placed him in the borderline range of intellectual functioning … between normal and retarded.” However, Dr. Jones noted there was some indication Andy failed to “try as hard as he could on some parts of the test.” Dr. Jones further noted Andy had scored higher on a previous IQ test. Dr. Jones also administered the Gates-McKinney test, which showed a fifth to sixth grade level for Andy’s reading comprehension, with a considerably higher reading recognition score. According to Dr. Jones, Andy’s compiled test results indicate he functions at a level below that properly classified as learning disabled. Andy performed poorly in school and left high school at age twenty-one without graduating. He does not have a driver’s license. Nonetheless, it is undisputed Andy works and can make financial contributions to his own support. At the time of trial, Andy had been employed on a full-time basis as a convenience store clerk for one and one-half years. His employment duties include working without supervision for eight hours at a time. Between May 1995 and December 1996, Andy earned $6.45 per hour and grossed $30,574.51.

We find this argument unavailing for several reasons. First, Andy has taken taxis to work when Wife was unavailable to drive him and is able to make those arrangements himself. Second, Andy earns enough at his job to be able to pay for transportation to and from work. He could pay his mother as easily as he could pay a taxi. Third, the support Wife argues Andy needs is not necessarily financial, but is rather general guidance in his daily life. While we do not know whether Andy is capable of living on his own, we do think he is clearly capable of contributing financially to his own support.

We note the marked difference between Andy’s and his brother Lee’s needs for financial support. Lee, who was twenty-three at the time of trial, suffers from severe emotional problems with a documented history of inappropriate social behavior. He has never had a job, has an explosive temper, and has difficulty completing routine tasks. Wife and Lee’s sister testified that Lee engages in ritualistic behaviors from arranging the dishes in the dishwasher in a set manner to taking excessive time to sweep a floor. If interrupted in the middle of a task, Lee must start over from the beginning of the routine. At the time of trial, Lee’s bed consisted of a sleeping bag on cardboard and carpet scraps he had placed over the joists in the attic storage space under the eaves of the home. The family court judge found Lee’s limitations severe enough to order Husband to continue supporting Lee financially, and Husband does not dispute that obligation.

In contrast, Andy, while impaired, simply does not have limitations that prevent him from gainful employment outside the home. Under the facts and circumstances of this case, we are compelled to agree with the family court that Wife failed to establish exceptional circumstances sufficient to require Husband to support Andy. Clearly, Andy has demonstrated an ability, despite his learning difficulties, to support himself financially. We find no abuse of discretion in the family court’s determination of this issue.

 
 

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