Who Gets to Receive Child Support for Adult Children?

Mother and Father were married in 1993 and divorced in 2008. They had two sons during their relationship, Older Son (OS) born in 1991, and Younger Son (YS) born in 1995. They divorced in 2008. The trial court judge ordered Father to pay child support for both sons to Terri in the amount of $810 for OS and $1,404 for YS child support… “until further order of the court or until the child marries, dies, is emancipated, reaches [age] nineteen (19), or reaches [age] eighteen (18) and is no longer a full-time high school student, whichever occurs first.” When OS “aged out” for child support, Father’s support order decreased to $1,404 per month for YS’s support only.

In 2014, YS turned 19 years of age; however, he was not able to take care of himself. YS had been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), an unspecified psychotic disorder, cannabis abuse, and oppositional defiant disorder. He was also living in a treatment facility in Texas for his illnesses. He also had not been living with Mother for the previous five years, even though she had primary physical custody while he was a minor.

In November of 2013, The Orange County Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) filed a motion to extend YS’s $1,404 child support beyond his adulthood date due to his mental incapacity. Father told the court that he did not object to continuing to pay child support; however, he did not think he should have to pay it to Mother, but that the money should go directly to YS. He believed Mother would use the money for her personal benefit.

The trial court ordered that Father continue to pay child support for YS to Mother, and Father appealed.

Section 3910(a) provides: “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."

The appellate court determined that the trial court erred by ordering Father to make the adult child support payments to Mother. According to the appellate court, “A parent’s obligation to support an incapacitated adult child runs to the child, not the other parent. [YS] is a fully emancipated adult. He does not live with [Mother], and she is not [YS’s] conservator, guardian, or legal representative.” Therefore, Father does not have to pay Mother child support for YS. However, the appellate court sent the case back to the trial court to determine to whom Father should send his child support payments, suggesting that the money be sent to an account set up at the Texas facility where YS is housed.

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