Why Am I Still Paying California Child Support for My 18-Year-Old?

You've been paying monthly child support payments for years. Your child turns 18, and you run down to the California family law courthouse to request to stop paying your child support ... only to find it's not as easy as you thought it would be. But why?

There are several reasons why a parent may have to pay child support past age 18 in California

Your child is still in high school (full-time)

Your child support payment obligations continue until your child graduates high school, becomes self-supporting, or turns 19 years old, whichever comes first.

If you are paying by earnings assignment, make an effort to schedule a termination date for a point in time after one of those events happens. This can help prevent you from having to pay child support long after your obligation ends. The process to terminate a wage garnishment is slow and can result in a significant overpayment that, quite frankly, is often never repaid.

You owe unpaid child support

Your obligation to pay back child support will continue until and unless you have an agreement with the custodial parent or court order. Keep in mind that if your local California Department of Child Support Services has been involved in your matter, they will also need to sign off on any agreement with the payee parent.

Unfortunately, there are certain circumstances where an agreement between parents to wipe out child support that is owed will not be honored by the court. Arrears can be financially debilitating. There is no statute of limitations for collection. Interest accrues at 10%. Your credit can be severely impacted, and your wages, tax refund, and bank accounts can be garnished.

Getting help for back payments of child support

If you're carrying a large arrearage balance, schedule a consultation with an experienced family lawyer. Determine whether any of the following are possible:

  •  Reducing your monthly arrears payment
  •  Eliminating interest accrual
  •  Reducing the amount owed
  •  Mitigating unwarranted penalties (suspension of driver's license, sanctions, and so on)

Your adult child is disabled

If your child is disabled, you may have to pay for child support long after your kid turns 18. In California, under Family Code section 3910, parents have a shared responsibility to support their adult child if the child is incapacitated and unable to earn a living.

A child is incapacitated if they cannot support themselves due to a mental or physical disability. The problem is that there isn't a whole lot of case or statutory law guiding the court on this issue. Judges have a lot of discretion in determining the amount of support (usually guidelines, unless unjust or inappropriate) and whether the child meets the legal qualification.

This raises some interesting what-if questions:

  • What if the child is autistic and has a part-time job (and a job coach)?
  • What if the child is a servicemember who returns from war incapacitated by posttraumatic stress disorder?
  • What if the child is addicted to drugs and has been in and out of rehabilitation?

Getting help with child support when your child has special needs

Even a child who receives Social Security or other financial support will likely be entitled to support if they meet FC 3910 requirements. An experienced lawyer can help you and your family navigate the system, negotiate a settlement (when appropriate), and litigate your matter, assuming it makes financial sense.