How long does child support last and can it extend past childhood?

In California Child Support continues until a child is 18 years old and is out of grade school  or attains age 19, marries, or dies, whichever occurs first. However, support of a child who is past the time for regular child support is authorized under Family Code §3901 or §3910, and something we term Adult Child Support.  An adult child for whom support is authorized under Family Code §3910 is one who is incapacitated from earning a living and without sufficient means.

The question then becomes – how do we determine that an adult child is “without sufficient means”? The case of In re Marriage of Drake (1997) 53 CA4th 1139 held that the question of “sufficient means” should be resolved in terms of the likelihood a child will become a public charge – someone who is likely to become primarily dependent on subsistence from the government or long-term institutionalized care at government expense. Please note that the Drake case also held that the statewide uniform guideline calculation still applies to support for an adult child. The usual case is a child that has obtained the age of majority; however, suffers from a disability or disorder that severely impairs their ability to support themselves.  A child who can support themselves but chooses instead to focus on school, or a child who simply has a hard time supporting themselves, has been held by the courts to not meet the standard for adult child support. Adult child support is truly meant for the exceptional circumstance.

Support may also be ordered for an adult child by agreement of the parties pursuant to Family Code §3587. It is not unusual for parents to agree to provide additional support to adult children for things such as college. An interesting case on this subject is Marriage of Rosenfeld & Gross (2014) 225 CA 4th 478. In this case, the divorced parties stipulated to pay each minor child’s college expenses. This resulted in an adult child support order incorporated into the court’s judgment. The resulting order was subject to the court’s jurisdiction to modify, absent an express and specific agreement by the parties to the contrary. Because the marital settlement agreement did not expressly restrict the court’s authority to modify the college expense support order, the Court held that it was a modifiable order.

There are two circumstances under which child support may continue beyond the normal termination date:
1) By agreement of the parties pursuant to Family Code §3587; and
2) In the case of an incapacitated and needy child pursuant to Family Code §3910.