You’ve been paying child support for years and years.
Your child has now turned 18 and you run down to the courthouse to request a termination of support — only to find it’s not as easy as you thought it would be.
There are several reasons why a parent may be on the hook to pay child support past age 18.
If your child is still in high school (full time)
Your obligation continues until s/he graduates, becomes self-supporting, or turns 19 y/o, whichever comes first. If you are paying by earnings assignment, make efforts to schedule a termination date so that you aren’t paying long after your obligation has ended. The process to terminate a wage garnishment is slow and can result in a significant overpayment that quite frankly, is oftentimes never paid back.
If you owe arrearages for unpaid child support
your obligation to pay those arrears will continue until and unless you have an agreement with the custodial parent and/or court order. Keep in mind that if your local Department of Child Support Services has been involved in your matter, they will also need to sign off/ approve any agreement with the payee parent. Unfortunately, there are certain circumstances wherein an agreement between the parents to wipe out arrearages, 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, bank accounts (etc) can be garnished. If you find yourself with a large arrearage balance, it is well worth your time to schedule a consultation with an experienced family law lawyer to determine whether there is a possibility of: (1) reducing and setting your monthly arrears payment; (2) eliminating interest accrual; (3) reducing the total amount of arrearages owed; and (4) mitigating unwarranted penalties (suspension of driver’s license, sanctions, etc).
If your adult child is disabled
You may be on the hook for child support long after your kid turns 18. Under Family Code section 3910, parents have an equal responsibility to provide support for their adult child if s/he is incapacitated from earning a living and is without sufficient means for support. A child is incapacitated from earning a living if s/he is unable to support herself because of a mental or physical disability. The problem is — 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 guideline unless unjust or inappropriate) and whether or not the child meets the legal qualification. So, for example, is an autistic child with a part-time job (and a job coach) incapacitated from earning a living? What about a service member that returns from war with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? How about a child addicted to drugs and in and out of rehabilitation? Even a child that receives social security or other financial support will likely be entitled to support if s/he meets the 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).