Who is Responsible for Supporting Incapacitated Adult Children?

Both parents are equally responsible for the financial support of an adult child who is incapacitated from earning a living.

The court’s jurisdiction over child support typically terminates upon the child reaching the age of majority (18 years old) or upon graduating high school, whichever occurs later.  However, if a child is not able to financially support themselves due to a mental or physical disability, the court’s jurisdiction is extended.  The Family Code makes it clear both parents have an equal responsibility to support a child “of whatever age who is incapacitated from earning a living and without sufficient means.”

The California Legislature has not limited the application of the state child support guidelines to minor children.  Thus, the courts are free to apply the state guidelines to any child owed a duty of support by a parent.  While the general rule regarding termination of child support is when the child reaches the age of eighteen, there are exceptions for when an adult child is owed a duty of support.  Therefore, age is NOT the terminating event for adult children owed a duty of support.  Under Family Code Section 3901, a parent’s support duty continues for unmarried children who, though they have reached age 18, are full-time high school students and not self-supporting.  Likewise, the duty to support a child extends to an adult child “who is incapacitated from earning a living and without sufficient means.” [See Fam. C. 3910(a)].

This means the court can order one or both parents to continue providing child support to adult children, but only upon proof of a mental or physical disability preventing the child from being able to work; or, at least proof of inability to find a job due to factors beyond the child’s control.

The “sufficient means” standard is described by case law as the likelihood the child will become a public charge.  In addition, the courts have held that a parent’s obligation to support their disabled adult child is not automatically discharged by the fact the child receives support from independent sources–such as a support trust funded by the other parent.  In Chun v Chun (1987) 190 CA3d 589, 595, 235 CR 553, 556-557, the court stated, “It cannot be that (incapacitated adult child) must disavow her mother’s continued support, and thereby make herself a public charge, in order to establish her right to support from her father.” [parentheses added].

Parents have a statutory duty to support their adult children who are “incapacitated from earning a living and without sufficient means.”   Also, keep in mind that when parents litigate this issue in a dissolution, legal separation, or nullity action, need-based attorney fees and costs are awardable pursuant to Family code Section 2030 et seq.  So if you are opposed to your spouse requesting child support for an adult child that is incapacitated, you may end up contributing to your spouse’s attorney fees.