Under California Family Code Section 3910, the short answer is, “Yes.” However, there are a number of conditions which must be met before any California Trial Court can order a parent to support an adult child.
The statute reads:
“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 sufficient means.”
This begs the following questions:
- What constitutes an adult child eligible for court-ordered parental child support?
- What is the standard for such a child to be found self-supporting?
In the past two months, two significant cases have been handed down from California’s Appellate Courts which address each of these questions.
Marriage of Drake, handed down by the 4th Appellate District Court of California on October 9, 2015, answers the question of “what constitutes an adult disabled child” in terms of the second question. An adult disabled child, said the Drake Court, is one “incapacitated from earning a living” (See Family Code Section 3910, cited above), which under the relevant statute and considering case authority, means “an inability to be self-supporting because of a mental or physical disability or proof of inability to find work because of factors beyond the child’s control.” Id.
In re Marriage of Cecilia and David W., also coming out of the 4th Appellate District a little more than a month later, on November 3, 2015, deals primarily with the second question: what is the standard for an adult disabled child to be deemed sufficiently self-supporting?
The Trial Court in Marriage of W. found that the adult disabled child was incapable of being “self-supporting at his parents’ standard of living.” The Appellate Court held that this was the incorrect standard: the Appellate Court specifically stated that the standard is not whether the adult child was incapacitated from earning a living; is not whether he can find and keep even a minimum wage job; and is not whether he can earn at his parents’ standard of living. The standard, said the 4th Appellate District Court, is whether the adult child will have sufficient means of support to avoid becoming a public charge.
There’s no information offered, or standard given, for what will create an appropriate standard of living for the adult child; the only standard is whether or not that adult child will become dependent upon the state. Here at Hartley, Maxwell & Castellano we’ve had a lively debate as to whether the ability to find work to elevate an adult child above the local poverty line might be an effective standard which would survive appeal; and I personally think, based on Marriage of W., that this is worth arguing to the Court, particularly as, in this generation, we see more and more adult children who are not able to support themselves. California’s legislature and courts hold that the burden for those adult children should fall on their parents rather than on society at large.
Does this mean that when the state provides an adult child with cash or other aid, these persons will be referred to the Department of Child Support Services to pursue the surviving parents of that child for support? That’s what happens today when a parent of a minor child seeks cash or other aid. It’s not illogical to think that might possibly come into being. For many of us, that should be frightening, indeed.