Father's Duty to Support Adult Child With Special Needs Ends on Child's Entry into Group Home

An Arkansas appeals court has ruled that a father may end child support payments to his adult son with special needs after the son's move to a group home where his Supplemental Security Income (SSI) now covers his monthly expenses. Bagley v. Williamson (Ark. App., No. CA 07-359, Dec. 12, 2007).

Carl Bagley and Michelle Bagley Williamson were divorced in1996. Ms. Williamson was given custody of their son, Shawn, who is mentally retarded, and Mr. Bagley was ordered to pay child support. When Shawn moved from his mothers home into a group home, Mr. Bagley asked a local court for permission to end the child support payments. At a hearing, Ms. Williamson testified that Shawns SSI check covered his housing, transportation, and other expenses, and that he also had a part-time job. Nonetheless, the court ruled in January 2007 that Shawns move to the group home was not sufficient to show a change in circumstances that would justify the termination of the child support payments.

Mr. Bagley appealed, and on December 12, 2007, the Court of Appeals of Arkansas reversed the lower court, ruling that Mr. Bagley can stop making his child support payments. Noting that no appellate court in Arkansas has ever ruled that a parent must support a special needs or disabled child for life, the court holds that the duty to support will be imposed only if an adult special needs child requires continued support. In this case, the court rules that Shawn's SSI checks cover his monthly expenses.

For the full text of the courts decision, go to: http://courts.state.ar.us/opinions/2007b/20071212/ca07-359.pdf
(The decision is in PDF format. If you do not have the free PDF reader installed on your computer, download it here.) Article Last Modified: 10/21/2009