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What Can Adult Children Do To Prevent Parents From Becoming A Financial Obligation?

News & Blog Oct 15, 2021

It is no surprise that Federal and California laws make both parents legally obligated to contribute toward the support of their children. In California, the parental child support obligation generally ends when the child turns 18 years of age and completes high school. If a child has not completed high school by age 18, the child support obligation continues until the child graduates or reaches 19 years of age, whichever occurs first.

What you may not know is that California also has a law making an adult child responsible for the support of a parent. Laws obligating an adult child to support a needy parent are not the work of the current roster of elected officials. You would have to go back to the late 1800s to find the origins of the law in our state and back even farther, to 15th century England, to find the law upon which it was based.

California Law Obligating Children to Support Parents

Section 4400 of the California Family Code obligates an adult child to support a parent who is in financial need and unable to earn sufficient income through work. The law makes the obligation subject to the ability of the adult child to pay.

The concept of an adult child being compelled to support a parent may be explained as the fulfillment of a reciprocal obligation begun by the parent supporting the minor child. In fact, the Family Code, Section 4410, grants adult children the right to petition for a court order relieving them of the obligation to pay support for a parent in situations where the parent abandoned the child during the child’s dependency. 

Relieving an adult child of the obligation to support based on allegations of parental abandonment must prove all of the following:

  • The child was a minor when abandoned by the parent;
  • The abandonment continued for at least two years prior to the child reaching 18 years of age; and
  • The parent, during the abandonment, had the physical and mental ability to support the child.

The inability to meet the burden of proving abandonment in order to be relieved of the obligation to pay support to a parent is not the only remedy available to a child. A court granting an order directing an adult child to pay support to a parent retains jurisdiction over the matter.

This means a person may challenge a support order and ask that it be terminated or modified. For example, an improvement in the financial circumstances of the parent or a decrease in the income earned by the adult child may be considered by a court as grounds to modify or end a support order.

Criminal Penalties May Be Imposed On An Adult Child

An adult child faces criminal charges for failing to provide food, clothing, housing, and medical care for a parent who does not have the income and financial means to pay for them. If the child has the financial capacity to provide them and refuses, it is a misdemeanor under California law.  

Parents may not want to start court proceedings against their adult children for support, but they may not have an option. The law in California gives the county that provides support for the parent the right to go after an adult child to obtain reimbursement of what was paid and ongoing support for the parent.

Speak To An Attorney About Protecting Parents’ Income and Assets

Families wishing to avoid the prospect of a parent becoming destitute should arrange a consultation to discuss asset protection and estate planning with an attorney at NM Law, APC. Our experienced attorneys may provide options to protect against a future financial crisis. Contact us today at 949-253-0000 to schedule a consultation.


Ms. Minto has been a business and estates transactional attorney based in California since 2003. Her practice is now located in Tustin, CA but represents individuals and entities based throughout the United States and abroad. Phone: (949) 253-0000, Email:


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