Post-Majority Support for Disabled Adult Children in Arizona
Generally a child support obligation in Arizona terminates when the child reaches the age of majority. However, the legislature amended the law to allow post-majority support for disabled adult children. In Mendoza v. Mendoza, 870 P.2d 421 (1994) the Court of Appeals addressed the effect of the amendments.
Facts and Procedure
Mrs. Mendoza and Mr. Mendoza had twins while they were married. The couple divorced in 1985. Their divorce decree ordered husband to pay child support until the twins were 18 years old. The twins turned 18 in 1991, but Mr. Mendoza continued to make irregular support payments.
Mrs. Mendoza requested increased support in 1992, and husband stopped altogether. Mrs. Mendoza filed a petition seeking support in December 1992. The trial court appointed her guardian ad litem for the twins for the proceedings.
Mr. Mendoza moved to dismiss, arguing that the domestic relations court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. The trial court granted husband’s motion. It found that Mrs. Mendoza did not have an enforceable legal claim.
Parental Duty to Financially Support Children
Generally, a parent’s duty to support a child ends when the child has reached the age of majority. Under the child support statute, A.R.S. § 12-2451(A), a court lacks authority to order support for children who have reached majority. In 1973, however, the Arizona legislature enacted A.R.S. § 25-320(B). This statute gave the trial courts authority to “order support to continue” for a disabled child past the age of majority.
In Provinzano v. Provinzano, 570 P.2d 513 (App. 1977), this court interpreted the words “may order support to continue.” It ruled that the word “continue” limited the statute. It indicated that a court only had this authority if it acquired jurisdiction before the child turned 18. The Arizona legislature amended § 25-320(B) in 1980 to change this. It now provides:
In the case of a mentally or physically disabled child, if the court, after considering the factors set forth in subsection A, deems it appropriate, the court may order support to continue past the age of majority and to be paid to the custodial parent, guardian or child, even if at the time of the filing of a petition or at the time of the final decree, the child has reached the age of majority.
The Court of Appeals said that the clear legislative intent of this amendment was to broaden the court’s jurisdiction. The amended statute allows courts to order support of adult, disabled children. The Court found that the term “petition” was not limited to a dissolution petition. It could also mean a child support petition. Thus a court could order support for disabled post-minority children who were subjects of a prior support order.
Husband argues that Mrs. Mendoza cannot file this petition since she did not request post-minority support in the divorce decree. However, in Arizona, even an intentional waiver of child support is not binding on the courts. It will not be enforced if a child’s interests are adversely affected.
The Court found no evidence in the record to suggest an intentional or knowing waiver.
According to case law, before a disabled, post-majority child received support, a parent must be awarded custody. And the issue of disability must be presented to the court in a proceeding to which the child is a party.
Mrs. Mendoza asserts that she was named sole guardian, conservator, and custodian of the twins. However, this is not part of the record before the court.
The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the case. It found that Mrs. Mendoza’s petition stated a valid claim under § 25-320(B). Therefore, the trial court had jurisdiction to consider her request for post-minority support of the disabled children.
On remand, the Court ordered the trial court to determine 1) whether wife is custodian of the children, 2) whether wife’s failure to seek post-minority support was intentional, and 3) whether further support is warranted after considering the factors in § 25-320(A).