Child Support

CHILD SUPPORT FOR A 39 YEAR OLD DISABLED DEPENDENT CHILD

In the family law, child support case of Johnson vs. Johnson, PICS Case No. 17-0005 (Pa. Super., Dec. 20, 2016) the Honorable John T. Bender, writing on behalf of the Pennsylvania Superior Court, ruled that the trial court erred in relying on medical records from prior litigation in the case, not introduced into evidence in the present matter to determine that the parties’ child was psychologically incapacitated from obtaining gainful employment and therefore remained a dependent.

Albert Johnson, father of Jessica Gardener, appealed from the order of the trial court denying his request to terminate an existing support order and obligation to provide health insurance coverage to Jessica, then 39 years old, whom father claimed was no longer a dependent child. At the time of the initial support order application filed by Jessica’s mother, Miriam Johnson, Jessica was 26 years old, and found to remain an adult dependent child.

At a hearing on father’s petition, the trial court found that Jessica “has suffered and continues to suffer from multiple disabling mental illnesses”, and held that while Jessica was not physically incapable of working, she suffered a life long psychiatric illness that prevented her from normally interacting with people and successfully competing for or holding employment that would make her self-supporting. The trial court came to this conclusion, noting that it did not have the benefit of current psychiatric testimony as it had sustained father’s objection to introduction of recent medial records on hearsay grounds, based on records in the case file from prior litigation in the matter in 2002.

On appeal father challenged the trial court’s ruling that Jessica continued to remain an adult dependent child due to her psychiatric condition, where the trial court precluded recent medical evidence and instead relied on case records from 2002 that were not introduced into evidence for the present petition. The court agreed with the father that trial court was precluded from considering evidence not part of the record or taking judicial notice of records from prior litigation in the case. The court ruled that since such information was outside the record, the trial court could not rely on making its determination. The court held that reliance on those records was particularly troubling given their age. Accordingly, the court vacated the trial court’s denial of the father’s petition, and remanded for reconsideration of the matter relying exclusively on evidence within the record.

Reference: Digest of Recent Opinions, Pennsylvania Law Weekly, 40 PLW 41 (January 10, 2017)

Filed Under: Child Support, Disabled Child unable to be self-supporting

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