Child Support Doesn’t Always End at 18

The conventional wisdom is that once a child turns 18, child support ends. While this is certainly true in many, if not most, cases, there are actually many instances in which child support is ordered after a child reaches the age of 18. In this post, we will discuss three of these instances: the 18-year-old high school student, agreements to provide support beyond the 18th year, and the adult disabled child.

The 18-year-old high school student

If a child reaches the age of 18, but is still in high school, the chances are that the support order will not terminate upon the child reaching the age of 18. Family Code section 3901 provides that child support continues to be payable “as to an unmarried child who has attained the age of 18 years, is a full-time high school student, and who is not self-supporting, until the time the child completes the 12th grade or attains the age of 19 years, whichever occurs first.” Under this statute, if the 18-year-old drops out of school, child support would end immediately.

Agreement of the Parties

Even if a child turns 18 (or if they are a full-time high school student that just turned 19), Family Code section 3587 provides that the parties can agree extend child support payments beyond the age of majority set forth in the Family Code.  Often referred to as “adult child support,” these arrangements become court orders and are enforceable just like any other child support order. In Smith and Maescher, the Court held that an agreement to pay college tuition was adult child support under Family Code section 3587. The Court even found that it was modifiable under the changed circumstances rule, just like regular child support orders. The agreement to share in college expenses and college tuition is probably the most common instance in which Family Code section 3587 applies.

Adult Disabled Child

Family Code section 3910 provides that a Court can continue to order child support for a child who attains the age of majority, but is disabled or cannot otherwise support his or herself. The case law on this issue holds that guideline child support can be appropriate for such children, but one should also keep in mind that Family Code section 4057 explicitly allows for deviations from guideline if there are “[s]pecial medical or other needs that could require child support that would be greater than the formula amount.” For example, if an adult disabled child requires expensive therapy or expensive medication, the adult child support order should probably be augmented to account for these extra expenses.

Most parents do not anticipate continuing to support their children once they become adults, but sometimes circumstances outside a parent’s control make it necessary. Moreover, adult child support can be a complicated issue, so parents are well served by seeking legal counsel to discuss their rights and obligations.

Please contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding adult child support. Nancy J. Bickford is the only Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) in San Diego County who is also a licensed Certified Public Accountant (CPA) with a Master of Business Administration (MBA). Don’t settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.


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