It is common knowledge that parents have an obligation to provide financial support for their children. Once the parents divorce or no longer live together, they may seek an order requiring payment of a specific amount of child support (or “family support” as it is termed in some states). The issue of child support can often become one of the mostly intensely disputed and/or financially impacting issues of any divorce, paternity, or other family law case. The calculation of the support payment, the manner in which it is payable, and duration are often assessed by the Family Law Court, taking into account the specific statutes, rules, and regulations in place in each jurisdiction.
However, a common misconception is for parents to think that their obligation will automatically end when their child or children reach the age of 18. As set forth below, there are several situations where a parent may be required to continue paying child support or family support for his or her children once they are no longer considered minors.
1. An Older High School Student
The most common situation where child support can continue after the child reaches the age of 18 is if he or she is still in high school after turning 18. In such a situation, the parent who has been ordered to pay child support can be ordered to continue making such payments until the child graduates, reaches the age of 19, or is no longer enrolled as a full-time high school student. Typically, the child support payments for such an adult child will be payable to the other parent.
2. A Disabled Adult Child
Another situation where child support can continue to be payable after the child turns 18 years of age is under circumstances where the adult child suffers from a physical or mental impairment that impairs his or her ability to support him/herself.
In California, the state legislature created California Family Code Section 3910, which provides that both parents have an equal responsibility to maintain, to the extent of their ability, a child of whatever age who is incapacitated from earning a living and without sufficient means. Case law has clarified that the incapacitation must be from a mental or physical disability or from other factors beyond the child’s control. In certain circumstances, it is possible that this statute could require child support for many decades beyond the time when the child reaches the age of 18.
Until recently, in California it was unclear whether such payments would be made directly to the adult child or to the other parent. The California Family Code does not contain any specific provisions on the issue, and there was little case law on the topic. However, the 2015 case of In re Marriage of Drake (2015) 241 Cal.App.4th 934, 194 Cal.Rptr.3d 252 provided some guidance.
In IRMO Drake, the disabled adult child lived in a residential care facility (separate from both parents). The California Court of Appeals held that the trial court had erred in ordering the adult child support payments payable from the father to the mother. Instead, the payments should have been ordered to have been made directly to the adult child. However, the Court did recognize that such payments could have been made payable to the mother if the adult child did reside with the mother and/or if the mother was the child’s conservator, guardian, or other legal representative.
If you are facing legal issues involving financial support of adult children, it is imperative that you consult with a licensed attorney, a legal aid clinic, or the self-help center of your local courthouse.