Duty to Support Adult Children

In most cases, child support orders include language that states the obligation to support continues only until the age of 18 or graduation from high school if the child turns 18 in their senior year. Parents may choose to voluntarily continue to support their children beyond this age, and often they do. Parents often pay for their kid’s college tuition and rent and other expenses upon graduating from high school and moving out. Doing this does not create any obligation to continue support. If a parent wishes, they may cut their children off financially (as may be threatened as a result of poor grades or too much partying in college.) Neither parent may force the other parent to continue supporting their kids beyond majority, unless of course they agreed to do so. Enforcement of an agreement to continue support into adulthood would be accomplished in civil court under basic contract principles, not necessarily under family court jurisdiction, unless the adult support was ordered under family court prior to the child becoming an adult.

Support for Adult Children

There may be a situation where a parent may still have an obligation to continue support into adulthood, even if no prior agreement was made between the parents. A parent has a responsibility to support a child of any age “who is incapacitated from earning a living and without sufficient means.” This language can be found in Family Code section 3910(a); and was reinforced by a recent case decided in the California Court of Appeal called Marriage of Drake.

In determining if a child is “incapacitated from earning a living and without sufficient means” the court will look to the purpose behind supporting an adult child with special needs. The purpose is to prevent the public from having to take on the burden of supporting an adult with special needs, especially when their parents are able to do so. So the court will take into consideration whether or not the dependent adult will become a “public charge.” In order to show that an adult is “incapacitated from earning a living” so that it is likely they will become a “public charge,” there must be proof of a mental or physical disability preventing the child from being able to work; or, at least proof of inability to find a job due to factors beyond the child’s control.

Again, this adult support may be enforced or enacted after a divorce, after the child turns 18, and even after prior support has automatically terminated. Family courts will have jurisdiction to hear a request by one parent to support and adult child, even after divorced proceedings have completed and the child is over the age of 18. If you have an adult child you believe is unable to earn a living, requiring additional or continued support, set up a free 30-minute consultation with an attorney at Cage & Miles, LLP to explore your options.

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