The issue of child support can often become one of the most disputed issues of any divorce, paternity or other family law case. Often times, it is a misconception for parents to believe that their obligation to pay child support will automatically end when their child reaches the age of eighteen. One situation where child support can be payable after the child turns eighteen years of age is under circumstances where the adult child suffers from a physical or mental impairment that diminishes the child’s ability to support him/herself.
Family Code section 3910
Family Code section 3910 states, “The father and mother 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.”
Incapacitated From Earning a Living
A child is incapacitated from earning a living if the child demonstrates an inability to be self-supporting because of a mental or physical disability or proof of inability to find work because of factors beyond the child’s control. In Chun v. Chun, a father was ordered to support an “emotionally disabled” adult child with a twelve-year-old maturity level. 190 Cal. App. 3d 589, 592 (1987). In re Marriage of Drake, a father was ordered to pay adult child support after his child was diagnosed with chronic paranoid schizophrenia. 53 Cal. App. 4th 1139, 1154 (1997).
In order to demonstrate that an adult child has an incapacity sufficient for adult child support, an independent medical exam (IME) should be considered. An IME will set a benchmark for the adult child, which will allow medical professionals to measure the extent of the adult child’s incapacity and the likelihood of the adult child developing a marketable skill set.
Without Sufficient Means
The question of “sufficient means” should be resolved in terms of the likelihood a child will become a “public charge.” Family Code section 3910 embodies the principle that society should not bear the burden of caring for incapacitated adults who have parents with the means to do so. The “without sufficient means” inquiry concerns the issue of whether or not the adult child will end up requiring governmental benefits in the future.
Guidelines to Calculate Adult Child Support
Aside from determining whether or not an adult child is (1) incapacitated from earning a living, and (2) without sufficient means, there still remains the issue of how adult child support is to be calculated. Pursuant to Drake, this area of the law is definitive. The following are key holdings that are universal to most adult child support cases:
- The state legislature intended the child support guidelines to apply to any child, regardless of age, who qualifies for support. As such, notwithstanding a reason to deviate from the guideline formula, adult child support is calculated the same way it is in a child support setting involving minor children.
- In exceptional cases, grounds exist to rebut the presumptively correct guideline amount found in Family Code section 4055. Drake is clear in that adult child support cases are subject to a deviation from the guideline amount. Careful attention must be directed to Family Code section 4057(5)(C) when dealing with an adult child.
- When a disabled adult child has independent income or assets, the trial court has the discretion to reduce the formula-calculated amount of child support.
The issue of adult child support may sound fairly simple, but a case may end up being very complicated. For example, two parents may disagree on whether or not the child is genuinely incapable of earning a living or merely disinclined to try. If you are facing legal issues involving financial support of adult children, Diacos Law can answer questions and help you understand your options.