Extended Child Support
California family law generally ends child support when a child reaches the age of majority, but there are exceptions. California family law considers the age of majority to be 18 years of age or when a child graduates from high school. Accordingly, under California Family Code Section 3901 child support continues for an unmarried child who has attained the age of 18 years, is a full-time high school student, and is not self-supporting, until the time the child completes the 12th grade or attains the age of 19 years, whichever occurs first.
However, there are exceptions to the general rule for when child support ends. California family law does state that nothing limits a parent’s ability to agree to provide additional support or the court’s power to inquire as to whether an agreement to provide additional support has been made.
While in most cases California law requires child support to be paid only until a child turns 18 (generally the age when children graduate from high school), child support payments can continue longer. An exception to the general rule that child support ends at the children’s age of majority occurs when the child is disabled. Parents can also agree that child support will continue until a specific date, for example until the age of 21 if the child goes to college and is not self-sufficient.
In cases where the child is disabled, mentally or physically, and unable to be self-sufficient upon reaching the age of majority, parents may have a duty to support their adult disabled children. According to Family Code §3910 states in part that:
(a) 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 enough means.
Most often, family law courts define “disability” in economic terms as in the inability of the adult disabled child to adequately care for himself or herself. This means the inability to earn a living by reason of mental or physical infirmity. Support for an adult disabled child residing in California is determined by child support guidelines or by the needs of the child as well as the parent’s ability to provide financial support.
College Aged Child
Most educational expense issues are addressed during the divorce or child support process itself. That means parents have no legal obligation to pay for their child’s college education — with one exception. If the parents are divorced and the divorce agreement includes paying college costs, one or both parents are legally obligated to pay for college. It is not unusual for parents to agree to pay child support for their child who attends college.
In most cases, child support will not cover tuition, room and board, and other college-related expenses. When there is no agreement in place, the obligation of divorced parents to pay for their child’s college expenses will be decided by the family law court. This is usually handled at the time of divorce or when child support is requested and ordered. In that scenario, it is wise to consult with a family law attorney about your legal responsibilities for child support and preparing for their college tuition and expenses.