Mother and Father were divorced in 1998. They had one son. Their marital
settlement agreement (MSA) gave physical custody of Son to Mother, with
Father paying child support until Son’s high school graduation or
when Son reached age 19. Son was 11 years old at the time of the MSA.
With Son’s graduation, child support ended. Son graduated on time
(2005), and went on to earn two associates’ degrees from a local
community college. It took him five years to do so with the help and intervention
of the Disabled Student Services (such as additional exam-taking time
In 2012, Mother went back into court and requested additional child support
for Son claiming son was unable to earn a living and probably never would
be able to do so. Son was 24 years old. He suffers from Tourette’s
Syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). (Tourette’s
symptoms include tics, affected motor skills and learning disabilities.)
Son suffers the effects of Tourette’s when he becomes stressed.
He was attending the University of California, living on campus and receiving
financial aid – including student loans in the amount of $30,000 per year.
Under California Family Code Section 3910, both parents have an equal responsibility
to take care of a child who is incapacitated from earning a living and
without sufficient means to support him/herself; in other words, whether
the child would become a public charge.
Mother argued before the trial court that Son’s disabilities prevented
him from earning a living, and could not support himself. Therefore, Father
should have to continue to pay child support.
The trial court agreed with Mother finding that Son may be able to find
a minimum-wage job, but Son was not able to get a job with his disabilities
in the $30,000-$40,000 range that he was receiving in college. Father
appealed on the grounds that the only decision the trial court had to
make was whether Son’s disabilities prevented him from working to
support himself, not whether he was capable of earning a living similar
to the one he currently had.
The Appellate Court agreed with Father and returned the case to the trial
court to determine whether Son was able to support himself with his disabilities
to prevent being a public charge.