Skip links

Special Considerations: Members with Disabled Adult Children

As the membership demographic of private clubs in the United States ages, so do the members’ children and, as is the case with the general population, the percentage of members’ children with developmental and related disabilities and other special needs continues to rise.

According to a recent U.S. Census report, approximately 1.2 million adults in the United States have an intellectual disability, and another 950,000 adults have other developmental disabilities including autism, attention deficit disorder and cerebral palsy. For many of these adults, their primary residence remains with their parents and these individuals frequently remain legal dependents of their parents whether formally or informally, notwithstanding that they are older than 21. The impact of this can be felt in many situations outside the realm of the private club industry. However, this growing demographic statistic poses an interesting question for private clubs that traditionally have defined an immediate family to include only children who are living at home and who are under a certain age, generally 21 or 23 years old. The question is, how do we define “immediate family” when special needs adult children reside in the member’s home and are legally dependent on the member?

Most membership governance documents today define immediate family using a combination of residency and age. For example, a typical provision will read, “A member’s immediate family includes the member, the member’s spouse and their unmarried children who are under the age of 23 and living at home, serving in the military or attending school on a full-time basis.” Thus, other family members, regardless of their dependency status are generally defined as extended family. Individuals in the category of extended family generally may use the club facilities but with restrictions on membership privileges, payment of extended family fees and limits on the number of times per year such family member may use the club’s facilities. Under this classic type of definition, an adult child of a member who is 25 years old and living with the member would be an extended family member regardless of that person’s legal dependency on the parent member.

What Are The Options?

Rule Changes: Some clubs have addressed this issue by adopting an alternative guest rule for adult children of members with special needs. One such rule is that extended family guests who are legally dependent upon a member are exempt from the restrictions and payment of fees required of other extended family guests.

Bylaws Changes: Other clubs have amended their bylaws to define immediate family taking the legal dependency of the child into consideration. For example, one club amended their governance documents to define “single family living unit” as one or more natural persons who are related by blood, marriage, domestic partnership or adoption that reside together as a single housekeeping unit, but which shall not contain more than two non-dependent adult natural persons. By replacing age in the definition of immediate family with dependency status, a club may extend the applicability of immediate family to include the special needs adult children.


If the club determines that a rule change or a bylaws change is necessary and appropriate, additional consideration should be given to the implementation of such rules. For example, the Privacy Rule under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), establishes national standards to protect individuals’ medical records and other personal health information. This privacy rule may be implicated depending on what, if any, documentation the club may require to be provided by the member seeking to include an adult child with special needs as part of the immediate family. Clubs should consult with their counsel for advice on these types of changes to their governance documents and the issues involved in implementing any such changes.

Michelle Tanzer, Esq., is the Chair of the Residential, Resort & Club group at GrayRobinson, P.A., the author of The Club Litigation Book – Keeping Clubs Out of Court, and serves on the board of directors of the National Club Association. She can be reached at [email protected] or 561-866-5700.