Beyond Minority: Providing for Adult Child Expenses in a Divorce


Children are expensive and their reliance on their parents often does not disappear when they turn 18. Yet, Wisconsin family law provides almost no guidance on how divorced parents should provide for an adult child’s expenses, such as college, health insurance, and living needs. It is up to the divorced parents themselves to make provisions providing for an adult child.

Wisconsin divorce law requires a determination of custody, placement, and support of a couple’s minor children before the divorce can be finalized. Yet, there is no basis for a parent of an adult child to unilaterally request the court make such orders for the adult child during a divorce. The rationale behind such restrictions is logical, but given today’s age and the continued dependence of children beyond their high school years, the restrictions often frustrate some parents.

Parents who agree to incorporate care and support of an adult child may do so in their divorce judgment. Provisions regarding care and support of an adult child are generally considered a part of the larger property and/or support settlement depending on the parents’ circumstances. Once the court approves the agreement, the provisions are binding for both of them even though the court could not order such provisions outright.

Common Adult Child Expenses


Below is a brief discussion of the most common provisions involving expenses for an adult child. A parent should seek legal advice about what provisions will maximize the likelihood a court will enforce the terms.

1. Medical Expenses

There are two main considerations when discussing an adult child’s medical expenses, health insurance coverage and uninsured medical expenses.

Health Care Coverage: With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as “Obamacare”, a child can generally remain on a parent’s employer provided medical insurance plan until age 26.

Uninsured Medical Expenses: Some parents will extend coverage of the costs beyond minority to insure the child until he or she is no longer considered a dependent on the medical insurance or until the child receives his or her own employer-provided coverage. Parents can include coverage of uninsured expenses for the same period or another timeframe that makes sense for their situation.

2. College Expenses 

No parents, whether divorcing or not, are required to pay for a child’s college or higher education expenses. Yet, saving for a child’s higher education is often a long-term process parents begin in varying degrees well before a child graduates high school. The main issue for incorporating these costs into a divorce judgment is that the costs are often unknown and potentially significant.

For a child already receiving such education at the time of the divorce, determining the extent of the costs can be relatively simple. Yet, some parents elect to provide for such future costs for minor children at the time of divorce. Those parents commonly generalize or limit responsibility for the costs to prevent the parents being saddled with excessive education costs years after the divorce.

For example, parents can agree to share in, or one parent may be solely responsible for, higher education costs not to exceed in-state tuition at UW Madison, regardless of what college the child actually attends. Parents who have previously established college saving plans for a child, such as 529 accounts, can include a framework for use of that account in the future to make sure it is not abused.

3. Special Needs

Providing for the care and expenses of an adult child with special needs can be an area of significant discussion between parents during a divorce. While some states empower a court to order provisions for care and support of an adult child with special needs, Wisconsin does not do so without agreement of the parents. Therefore, in order for an adult child with special needs to be included in the divorce judgment, parents must agree to provisions extending into their child’s adulthood.

We Can Help

Given the complexity of adult child expenses and many parents’ concerns regarding enforceability, a comprehensive discussion of Wisconsin law concerning such is essential. If you have questions about adult child expenses or divorce generally, please contact one of the Hawks Quindel family law attorneys by calling 414-271-8650 in the Milwaukee area or 608-257-0040 in the Madison area.

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