California Code Authorizes Courts to Maintain Jurisdiction in Certain Family Law Disputes

balance-1172800 (1).jpgDue to the nature of a divorce proceeding, separating spouses often fail to agree on some of the major issues to be resolved, such as spousal support, the division of marital property, and any child custody and support matters. In such cases, courts have the authority to step in and issue orders to address and determine these critical issues. And depending on the circumstances, courts retain that authority even after the judgment of divorce is rendered. To understand your rights with respect to the court’s authority over your case, from the filing of a complaint for divorce to any post-judgment relief, you are encouraged to speak with an experienced family law attorney from the local San Diego area.

Section 2010 of the California Family Code provides courts with the jurisdiction to award child support, among other things. In a recent case, the court cited this provision as a basis for extending “continuing jurisdiction” to determine issues of adult child support. Here, the parties were divorced in 1998 when their son was 11 years old. The judgment of divorce included the parties’ marital settlement agreement (“MSA”), which granted the mother physical custody of their child and required the father to pay child support each month until the earliest of his graduation from high school, when he reaches 19, or certain other events. When the child support obligation under the MSA expired, the mother failed to assert a formal request to continue those payments.

However, in 2012, when the couple’s son was 24 years old, the mother filed a request for adult child support. She claimed that he was not capable of earning a living or being self-supporting. He suffers from ADHD and Tourette’s syndrome, and he has earned two Associates degrees and is currently enrolled at the University of California, San Diego (“UCSD”). The court held two separate hearings in 2013 and 2014, respectively, to determine whether the mother was entitled to adult child support.

Under California law, parents have an equal responsibility to maintain, to the extent of their ability, a child of any age who is incapacitated from earning a living and without sufficient means. The purpose of the law is to avoid having the child become a “public charge.” The trial court ultimately found (among other things) that the couple’s son is an adult disabled child, and there was a lack of evidence to show that he could obtain a minimum wage job. Furthermore, the court concluded that he lacked sufficient means because his current support situation is based upon his attendance at UCSD. The father appealed, arguing the court did not have jurisdiction to hear the matter and applied the incorrect standard under Section 3910.

The court of appeals disagreed with the father’s jurisdiction argument, but it concluded that the lower court did apply an incorrect standard in rendering its decision. With respect to the first part of the analysis (incapacitated from working), the trial court should have looked at whether the couple’s son was unable to be self-supporting due to the purported disability or was unable to find work due to factors beyond his control. Regarding the second criteria (lack of sufficient means), the court should have looked at the son’s ability to support himself and avoid becoming a public charge, regardless of any support related to his enrollment at UCSD.

Therefore, the court concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support the order of adult child support and remanded the case back to the trial court with instructions to determine if the son is incapacitated from earning a living and without sufficient means under Section 3910. This case nicely illustrates the complicated nature of statutory provisions affecting child support cases and how important it is to understand your legal rights in any family law case. Roy M. Doppelt has been representing parties in divorce matters for more than 20 years. His office serves clients throughout Southern California, including San Diego, Encinitas, La Jolla, and Chula Vista. For a free consultation, contact Doppelt & Forney through our website, or give us a call toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748).

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