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Trial Court Applies Incorrect Standard in Determining Whether Adult Child for Whom Mother Sought Child Support under Family Code Section 3910 Was Incapacitated from Working and Without Sufficient Means

Posted By Anthony P. Azemika, Esq.   |   Comments (0)
Child Support,

 

 

     In the case of In re Marriage of Cecilia and David W., Trial Court issued Mother and Father’s divorce judgment on December 30, 1998. That Judgment incorporated the parties’ Marital Settlement Agreement which provided, among other things, that Mother would have physical custody of their 11-year-old son. Father was ordered to pay child support for Son until Son completed high school, reached age 19, “or certain other events,” whichever occurred first. In December of 2012, Mother filed a “Request for Order,” seeking adult child support for now-24-year-old Son under California Family Code Section 3910. In her request, she asserted that Son was not currently able to be self-supporting and might not ever be. Father then moved to join Son in the proceeding and Trial Court granted his motion.

     At a subsequent hearing, Son’s psychologist testified as an expert witness regarding Son’s health issues and their day-to-day impact. Psychologist stated that Son suffers from Tourette’s syndrome and ADHD, which affect his motor skills, and cause him to have learning disabilities and emotional management issues, especially under stress. He also opined that Son needed “external support, schedules, and feedback to help him self-regulate emotion” and “talk him down from high levels of anxiety and panic attacks.” Psychologist further testified about his treatment plan for Son and Son consultations with him when Son became stressed or overwhelmed. Other testimony showed that Son had graduated high school on time, had obtained two associate degrees from a community college, and was currently attending UC San Diego. In both college settings, Son needed accommodations for his issues, including intervention by Disabled Student Services, quieter test settings, extra time to complete tests, and the use of a laptop and tape recorder in class. Son also received private tutoring. He maintained B-range grades at UCSD, and currently lived on campus with roommates, but spent weekends, holidays, and summer vacations with Mother. Mother kept track of his activities and participated in meetings with Disabled Student Services. Son also has a car and drives himself. Testimony also showed that Son received $30,000 per year in financial aid, but Mother paid for his tutor, cell phone, vehicle costs, books, clothing, and groceries.

     Mother stated that she had not applied for Social Security Disability for Son. As for Son’s ability to find work and be self-supporting, psychologist testified that Son is intellectually capable of working, but his health issues would preclude him from working in a stressful environment. Psychologist also stated that he had counseled Son regarding career goals and job seeking skills. Neither Mother nor Father believed that Son could work, but Father anticipated that Son could work part-time. Son testified that he had never tried to get a job, but was interested in video game marketing and design and was participating in a weekly group that develops games and “performs outreach to game companies.” Son said he had not taken courses in video games because of the math requirement.

     When the hearing concluded, Trial Court expressed uncertainty as to the amount of evidence about Son’s vocational abilities. However, Trial Court found that Son could not both go to school and work, that his issues would make it difficult for him to get and keep a job, and that his ability to earn $30,000 to $40,000 per year was “highly questionable.” Trial Court further found that Son was without sufficient means because he would lose his $30,000 support if he left school and the minimum wage job he was likely to get would not permit him to live at his parents’ standard of living. In further findings and orders issued in August of 2014, Trial Court specifically found that Son was an adult disabled child, that the evidence did not support a finding that Son could obtain a minimum wage job, and that Son lacked sufficient means because his current support was tied to his attendance at UCSD. Accordingly, Trial Court made an order for adult child support under California Family Code Section 3910.

     Claiming that Trial Court lacked jurisdiction to award adult support and applied incorrect legal standards in ordering adult child support, Father appealed. Now, California Court of Appeals has reversed Trial Court’s decision and has remanded the case back to Trial Court for further proceedings. The Appellate Court has ruled that (1) California Family Code Section 2010 and Section 4001 give Trial Court jurisdiction to award child support for adult child; (2) California Family Code Section 3910 permits Trial Court to order child support for adult child who is incapacitated from earning a living (demonstrates inability to be self-supporting because of mental or physical disability or proof of inability to find work because of factors beyond his or her control) and is without sufficient means; (3) Trial Court applied incorrect standard in determining whether Son was incapacitated from earning a living because it focused on whether Son’s issues would hamper him from finding and keeping employment instead of whether those issues rendered him unable to find work or become self-supporting; (4) Trial Court applied incorrect standard in determining whether Son lacked sufficient means because it focused on whether his current support hinged on UCSD attendance and his anticipated minimum wage job would allow Son to live at his parents’ standard, instead of on whether Son would have sufficient means to avoid becoming a public charge; and (5) there was insufficient evidence of Son’s incapacity and lack of sufficient means to support Trial Court’s order for adult child support. The Appellate Court reverses that order and remands the case back to Trial Court with directions to Trial Court to determine whether Son is incapacitated from earning a living and without sufficient means within the meaning of California Family Code Section 3910.

 

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