Can Adult Children Sue for Unpaid Child Support?
If you are an adult child, can you successfully sue your parent for unpaid child support? The answer is, “It depends.” Technically, child support is owed from one parent to the other parent, to help raise the child. It is not a debt owed to the child. So, if there is unpaid child support, it is normally up to the parent who did not receive child support to sue the other parent. If the recipient parent wins such a lawsuit, the money collected will normally go to the parent, not to the child.
There are some exceptions:
If the recipient parent has passed, however, and you are the representative of your custodial parent’s estate, you can sue for back child support, because the money is still owed to the deceased parent’s estate.
If the recipient child is disabled, such that he or she cannot earn a living and support themselves on their own, they may be able to get child support beyond the age of 18. In a lawsuit for past child support, the disabled adult child may be able to receive child support payments directly.
When is child support normally available for a child?
Child support is normally paid until a child is 18 years of age. It may extend past the age of 18, however, if the child is still in high school. Child support ends when the child graduates from high school or reaches 19 years of age. Some parents choose to extend child support into their child’s college years in their Divorce Settlement Agreement. Some parents may make other stipulations in their Divorce Settlement Agreement to extend child support past the “normal age” for receiving it.
Here is an example from the entertainment world:
Real Housewives of New York City star Luann de Lesseps. Luann had breached a stipulation in her Divorce Settlement Agreement from Alexandre de Lesseps by failing to create a trust “for the benefit of her two adult children.” The judgment in the divorce required Alexandre to give the deed of the former couple’s marital residence in Bridgehampton, New York, to Luann — who agreed to create a trust for her two children and to fund the trust with an undivided one-half interest in the Marital Residence.
But, instead of creating the trust, Luann sold the residence in November 2014 for $8 million and used the earnings to purchase a home in Southampton, New York, for $3.1 million. As a result, her ex-spouse and two grown children filed a lawsuit against her to try and prevent the sale of her Southampton home, which she desired to do.
How has it turned out? Luann de Lesseps has (for the time being) decided not to sell her Southampton home, but she still has not set up the trust for her two children that she had promised to do in her Divorce Settlement Agreement. If she does not set up the trust, can her adult children successfully sue her? Once again, it depends. The law is complex.
How long can an adult child reach backward for child support?
The laws on suing for back child support differ from state to state. Some states have a statute of limitations on enforcing a court order. In California, a parent or child has 10 years past the child’s 18th birthday to launch a lawsuit, or 10 years past their 19th birthday, if the child was still in high school past their 18th birthday. So, in other words, you can launch a lawsuit for past child support until your child is 28 or perhaps 29.
If you are a parent who has unpaid child support due to you, or if you are the child or such a parent, please contact our office for a consultation.
Attorney Christina Sherman is a Marin County CA family law attorney and Certified Family Law Specialist, specializing in divorce, child custody and support, marital contracts and other family law issues.
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