Duty to Support an Adult Child

General Rule

The general rule as to child support is that both parents have the obligation to support their child until the child turns 18 years old and has graduated from high school, or is 19 years old or otherwise emancipated. If a child turns 18 years old and has graduated from high school the child support obligation generally terminates. If a child becomes married prior to their 18th birthday the obligation for child support generally terminates. If a child is 18 and is still in High School the child support obligation terminates upon graduation from high school. In essence The duty of child support will continue until a child turns 18 and completes high school (or turns 19, whichever comes first). Child support will also end when any of the following circumstances with the child occur:

  • Gets married
  • Enlists in the military
  • Emancipates, under these conditions:
    • the child is at least 14 years old, does not want to live with parents, has the ability to handle personal funds, secures legal income, and the court determines emancipation is in the child’s best interest
  • Passes away
Family Code § 3901 Specifically States
  • “(a) (1) The duty of support imposed by Section 3900 continues as to an unmarried child who has attained 18 years of age, is a full-time high school student, unless excused pursuant to paragraph (2), and who is not self-supporting, until the time the child completes the 12th grade or attains 19 years of age, whichever occurs first.
  • (2) A child is excused from the requirement to be a full-time high school student for purposes of paragraph (1) if the child has a medical condition documented by a physician that prevents full-time school attendance.
  • (b) This section does not limit a parent's ability to agree to provide additional support or the court's power to inquire whether an agreement to provide additional support has been made.”

Family Code § 4053 provides that a parent’s first and principal obligation is to support his or her minor children according to the parent’s circumstances and station in life. That boh parents are mutually responsible for the support of their children.

Child support calculations must take into account each parent’s actual income and level of responsibility for the children. Each parent should pay for the support of the children according to his or her ability. Specifically it is the intent that children should share in the standard of living of both parents.

In making child support orders, the court will presume that a parent having primary physical responsibility for the children contributes a significant portion of available resources for the support of the children.

But the question is can child support extend past the general rule of termination of child support. The answer is maybe.

The Exception - Disabled Child or a Child which Lacks Sufficient Means

The Courts have, at least implicitly, found the following sufficient to make a finding that a child is incapacitated from earning a living:

  • “autistic disorder, borderline intellectual functioning and though high functioning [with] a history of deficits in social interactions” Falk (2003) 2003 WL 22940959 (not officially published);
  • “chronic schizophrenia, paranoid type” (Drake, 53 Cal.App.4th 1139);
  • emotional disability resulting in 20-year old with emotional maturity of a 12-year old (Chun, 190 Cal.App.3d 589);
  • obligation to attend high school after turning 18 (Rebensdorf, 169 Cal.App.3d 138);
  • extreme disturbance with hyperkineticism and infantile symbiotic psychosis” (In re Marriage of Lieberman (1981) 114 Cal.App.3d 538);
  • “sick and unable to work” (Younger v. Younger (1931) 112 Cal.App. 445);
  • “metal illness” (Levy v. Levy (1966) 245 Cal.App.2d 341);
  • paraplegic as a result of polio (Woolams v. Woolams (1952) 115 Cal.App.2d 1); and,
  • “totally blind invalid” (Paxton v. Paxton (1907) 150 Cal. 667)

Where a child lacks sufficient means under Family Code § 3910(a) if they are likely to become a “public charge.” (Drake, 53 CalApp.4th at 1154-1155.) However, what it means for a child to be a “public charge.” has not been defined by statute or case law.

Another way to look at this is that the “without sufficient means” requirement in Falk (2003) 2003 WL 22940959 at 3 (not officially published) and Chun. (Falk, 2003 WL 22940959 at 3 and Chun, 190 Cal.App.3d at 592-596.) which support a standard where a child does not have sufficient means to support themselves if they are unable “to be financially self-supporting from sources other than employment.” (Falk, 2003 WL 22940959 at 3; Chun, 190 Cal.App.3d at 592-596.)

You will have to show that the adult child is unable to be financially self-supporting, they are likely to become a public charge, that they are severely physically or mentally disabled to the extent that they are unable to become gainfully employed.

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