In an age where sons and daughters remain longer in the family home, one may question the concept of childhood dependence ending at majority. The issue is central to determining when child support should terminate. In California, the default position (reflected on court forms) is that child support terminates at the age of 18, but this can be altered by either the parents or the court.
California Child Support
California law requires both parents to provide support for their minor children. The amount of child support a non-custodial parent must pay is dictated by statutory guidelines; it varies depending upon the financial situation of both parents as well as the age and number of children. A family law judge is only permitted to deviate from the child support guidelines if the case falls within one of the express exceptions. California state government is also active in assisting custodial parents to collect unpaid child support.
Judicial Council Form FL-342
All California counties require the same forms to commence and prosecute a divorce or separation. These forms, developed and updated by the California Judicial Council, are available online from the court system website as well as from online legal services providers. You must use court forms to request a child support order and to prepare the child support order for the court to include in its judgment. The court order form to request support is form FL-342. Language printed on the form provides that the child support continues "until further order of the court, or until the child marries, dies, is emancipated, reaches age 19, or reaches age 18 and is not a full-time high school student, whichever occurs first."
Despite the language of form FL-342, nothing in California law requires that the obligation to pay child support terminates when a child turns 18. When parents arrive at a marriage settlement agreement, they can include whatever later termination point they agree upon. One common option is for parents to agree that child support continues until the age of 21 if the child remains in school. And many parents continue to assist sons and daughters financially even after the child-support obligation terminates.
California courts have discretion in determining how long child support payments should continue in some cases. Although the general cutoff age is 18, or 19 if the child remains in high school, a court can award much longer support for a child who is disabled and unable to earn a living. The statutes provide: “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.”