Fraud Blocker

What Happens to Child Custody When Children Turn 18?

Your child’s 18th birthday is a major milestone. It marks the day they become a legal adult. Obviously, that substantially expands their legal rights and abilities. However, if you have a child custody or support order, it may also impact you. 

When children turn 18, significant changes occur in the realm of child custody because, in the eyes of the law, they are no longer considered minors. Let’s explore what typically happens to child custody when children reach the age of 18 and what you can do if you find you need to modify orders due to your teen turning 18.

The Purpose of Child Custody in California

The purpose of child custody in California, as in other jurisdictions, is to determine the best living and caregiving arrangements for a minor following the separation or divorce of their parents. The primary focus is on the best interests of the child, ensuring their health, safety, and welfare are prioritized. 

Custody and support orders are closely tied. Custody is typically flexible. Orders cover both:

  • Physical Custody: This refers to where the minor will live. Physical custody can be joint (the kid lives with both parents at different times) or sole (the kid lives with one parent, and the other may have visitation rights).
  • Legal Custody: Legal custody pertains to the rights and responsibilities of making decisions about the kid’s upbringing, including education, health care, and religious instruction. It may also be joint or sole.

The precise splits of physical and legal custody can vary substantially between families. As long as the kid is subject to these orders, they are required to follow its terms, including living with each parent when dictated in the associated parenting plan. A custody order can be modified with the agreement of both parents or when one parent can demonstrate a substantial change in circumstances or risk to the minor that makes changing the order in their best interest.

In contrast, support orders have relatively little flexibility. Once a parenting plan is determined, the parents’ income and other financial obligations are entered into California’s official child support calculation to determine which parent should pay support and how much they must pay. These orders are less flexible because they are intended to ensure both parents financially provide for their children according to their economic abilities. Typically, these orders can only be changed when there is a real and material change to one parent’s financial circumstances or when the parenting plan is substantially altered.

How Child Custody and Support Are Affected by the Subject’s Age?

In California, when a teenager turns 18, they are legally considered an adult. They can enter into contracts, vote, and generally conduct their affairs without parental consent or oversight. This includes the ability to choose where to live, work, and study. This change has significant implications for child custody arrangements:

  • Termination of Custody Orders: Once a teen reaches the age of 18, child custody orders typically cease to have effect. This is because these orders are meant to govern the care and control of a minor child, and upon reaching adulthood, the individual gains the legal right to make decisions independently of parental control.
  • End of Parental Responsibility: Parents are no longer legally responsible for making decisions on behalf of their children once they turn 18. The young adult can now decide where and with whom to live without regard to the parenting arrangement that was in place while they were a minor.
  • Child Support: Parents’ financial obligations generally continues until the subject turns 18. However, if the teen is still a full-time high school student and not self-supporting, the support continues until the subject completes 12th grade or turns 19, whichever occurs first.

Parents can agree to continue supporting their children beyond the age of 18, but this is a personal decision and not governed by the same legal standards as custody for minors.

There are special circumstances where child support and potentially some form of parenting arrangement might continue beyond the age of 18. This is usually the case when the subject has special needs or disabilities that prevent them from being self-supporting.

Can You Modify Support Orders When Children Turn 18?

So, custody orders are automatically terminated when kids turn 18 unless they are disabled. However, support orders may continue. Usually, these orders are established long before the kid reaches their 18th birthday. As such, they may not account for changes in living circumstances. There are four primary reasons you may need to alter your orders when your teen approaches their 18th birthday:

  • Changing Living Conditions: Support orders can extend until the subject’s 19th birthday if they are a full-time high school student and do not support themselves. If an order is written assuming this will not be the case but the child’s educational path changes, it may need to be updated and extended.
  • Terminating Support: If child support is still being paid when the teen turns 18 (or 19 if still in high school), and there are no special circumstances, parents may need to take legal action to formally end the order. 
  • Special Health Circumstances: If the subject has disabilities and requires ongoing support, parents may need to modify the order to extend beyond the age of 18. This requires demonstrating the child’s ongoing need for assistance.
  • Educational Support: Some parents agree to provide for their children through higher education. While this isn’t mandated by law, if such an agreement is part of the original order or if parents enter a new agreement, it may need to be formalized through a modification of the original order.

Modifying a support order around a child’s 18th birthday can be a complicated matter. If you think you may need to petition for a modification, you should consult with an experienced family law attorney like the professionals at Kaspar & Lugay LLP. Schedule your consultation to learn more about how our skilled child custody attorneys can assist you with your complex family law matter.