Child Support: Termination and continuation beyond age 18

In the start of a family law case with minor children, the parties often devote much attention to establishing an amount for child support.  In almost all cases when parents separate the court will institute an amount of support payable by one part to the other for the parties’ children.  This ordered support continues until support is modified by the court or terminated by law.  This article addresses those circumstances which give rise to the termination of child support and circumstances which may allow it to continue into adulthood.

Termination of Child Support

As a matter of law there are certain conditions which terminate an obligation to provide support for a child.  Generally child support will end when:

  1. The child dies.
  2. The child is emancipated.
  3. The child gets married.
  4. The child is adopted terminating the parental rights of the supporting parent.
  5. The child reaches the age of 18 and is no longer a full time high school student.
  6. The child reaches age 19 (regardless of whether the child is still in high school or not).

Absent certain exceptional circumstances if one of the terminating conditions listed above occurs, child support terminates as an operation of law.  After such happens the parent receiving support is obligated to notify the parent paying support and is obligated to refund any support paid after support obligation terminates.

Child Support into adulthood

The court can in certain circumstances, as listed below, order that support for a child continues into adulthood.  However, if these circumstances do not exist the court lacks the authority to continue child support.

Support to pay for colleges

While some states have instituted laws that require parents to chip in for their adult child’s college education, California has not done so.  The court cannot order a parent to contribute to an adult child’s college expenses over that parent’s objection.  However, the parents can agree to pay for a child’s college education, whether informally or as a court order, and if made into a court order the court can enforce that agreement according to its terms.  Absent such an agreement, a court order to pay for an adult child’s college education expenses is invalid and is beyond the court’s authority.

Support for adult disabled children

Family code 3910(a) creates an obligation for a parent to support “a child of whatever age who is incapacitated from earning a living and without sufficient means”.  The courts have generally imposed a support obligation under this statute when the facts or circumstances indicate that the child has a physical or mental disability which prevents them from being able to work if they chose to do so.  In cases where a now adult child has such a disability a careful examination of the facts is needed to determine the child’s vocational interests and their ability to work (whether with or without accommodations).   Cases dealing with support for adult children who may be disabled are incredibly complicated and fact specific and should not be undertaken without legal assistance.

If you have any questions regarding child support and its termination please contact our office and set up a time to meet with our attorneys.

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