California Court Rules Child Support Payments Must be Made Directly to Adult Child

A divorcing couple with minor children inevitably will have to consider the issue of child support. Either the parties will come to an agreement as to the appropriate amount, or a court will impose upon them a determined figure in accordance with the state’s child support guidelines. Additionally, the State Family Code requires parents to pay “adult child support” under certain circumstances. Whether you will be the recipient of support or the person obligated to pay, it is extremely important to understand your legal and financial rights. The best course of action is first to contact an experienced family law attorney from the San Diego area, someone who handles divorce cases on a daily basis.

While not as common as a typical child support obligation, adult child support requirements do exist. Under Section 3910 of the California Family Code, a parent is responsible to pay for the support of an adult child under the following two conditions: 1) if the adult child is “incapacitated from earning a living” and 2) is without “sufficient means.” A California court recently had the opportunity to review the statute and its applicability to a couple’s divorce case. Here, the parties married in 1993, separated in 2006, and have two children born in 1991 and 1995, respectively. Their stipulated judgment of divorce indicated that the husband was required to pay child support until the children marry, die, are emancipated, or reach 19 (or 18 and are no longer in high school), whichever comes first.

In November 2013, the Orange County Department of Child Support Services (the “Agency”) filed a motion to extent child support payments for the couple’s second son beyond his emancipation date. The child had been diagnosed with several medical conditions (ADHD, a psychotic disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and cannabis abuse), and he was living in a residential treatment center in Texas. He had not lived with his mother for the previous five years. In December 2014, he was emancipated upon turning 19 years of age. The Agency alleged that the adult child was incapacitated from earning a living and without sufficient means based on his mental health issues and other concerns.

In support of the motion, the wife filed an income and expense statement, itemizing her costs associated with their son’s care, including traveling expenses to see him. The husband opposed the motion, arguing that their son’s expenses were paid for by the school district. At the hearing, the husband did not object to providing their son with financial support, but he argued that it should not be paid directly to his ex-wife. The wife countered by asserting that she spends a great deal of time staying involved with their son’s care and progress.

The trial court granted the motion for adult child support, concluding that he was incapacitated from earning a living and without sufficient means. The husband appealed. The court of appeals affirmed part of the ruling, finding that there were expenses not covered by the school district funding, and it held that the couple’s son was both incapacitated from earning a living and without sufficient means under the statute. However, the court found that the trial court erred by ordering that the adult child support payments be made directly to the child’s mother. Under California law, a parent’s duty to support an incapacitated child runs to the child. The court remanded the case to the lower court to determine a method by which the adult child support payments could be made directly to the son.

This case illustrates the complicated nature of child support cases. If you are considering divorce and have children, you are strongly encouraged to contact an experienced family law attorney as soon as possible. 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 and Forney, APLC through our website, or give us a call toll-free at (800) ROY IS IT (769-4748).

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