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California Parents Enforcing Child Custody Orders After the Child Has Reached the Age of Eighteen — Williams v. Cavers

Empty NestIn our last blog, we discussed a New Jersey teenager who tried to sue her parents for child support. In applying California law to a hypothetical case, we noted that California considers a child emancipated at the later of age 18 or high-school graduation for matters concerning child support. These cases rule on that critical period in life when individuals are preparing to leave home and become adults but are still teenagers.

California emancipation laws also apply to child custody orders. A recent unpublished opinion by 6th appellate district, Williams v. Cavers, delves into the issues of child custody when a child has reached the age of 18.

It should be noted that Williams v. Cavers is a 8.1115 opinion. Under California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), an court opinion that is available to the public but is not certified for publication may not be cited in court or used for precedential value. Nonetheless, the case provides some insight into how appellate courts in California handle child custody.

Facts of the Case
In Williams v. Cavers, when the child turned 17, her mother petitioned the court for custody. The father, who had primary custody, opposed the change. After failing to come to a resolution with a mediator, the mediator recommended that the mother gain custody at the end of the school year. The father continued to object to the mediator’s recommendation. At a later custody hearing, the trial court adopted the mediator’s recommendation. The father continued to appeal the decision, and during this appeal process the daughter reached the age of 18.

California allows for a mediator to help parents resolve issues concerning child support and custody. A mediator helps parents create a parenting plan. A judge can certify the plan making it a support and custody order. Mediators have advanced degrees and are required to work at least two years of counseling or social work experience. They are trained to create a plan that is in the best interest of the child. It is recommended that any agreement reached in mediation should be reviewed by a lawyer before signing.

Under CA Fam. Code § 3183, if the parents fail to agree on a parenting plan, the mediator may submit a written recommendation to the court. In this case, the mediator recommended that the primary custody change to the mother. Courts are not required to adopt the mediator’s recommendations but, as in the current case, can use it in their ruling. The appellate court affirmed the custody decision and granted custody to the mother.

This may be the first know ruling in the 6th district; however, other districts have ruled on custody after a child reaches the age of 18.

The 4th district in a published opinion, In re Marriage of Jensen (2003), ruled the matter moot. A father could not force his child’s mother, who lived with the child in Thailand, to encourage the child, who was over 18, to visit and give the father written updates.

The 4th district again ruled the matter moot in another published opinion, In re Marriage of Gamble. The case has similar facts as the 6th district opinion where a father had been in the appeals process while the child turned 18.

The 3rd district also ruled in In re Marriage of Mimi L. the matter moot since the child reached the age of 18. The mother had brought charges against the father, his attorney, and the judge for violating her civil rights by granting custody of her child to the child’s father.

The analysis under all these decisions is essentially the same. Under CA Fam. Code § 3022, “The court may, during the pendency of a proceeding or at any time thereafter, make an order for the custody of a child during minority” (Italics added). Under CA Fam. Code § 6500, “A minor is an individual who is under 18 years of age.” Finally, under CA Fam. Code § 6501, “An adult is an individual who is 18 years of age or older.” The courts held that taking these three sections together provides that California courts have no jurisdiction when enforcing custody orders after the child reaches the age of 18.

Unlike child support, which terminates on the later of the child’s 18th birthday or graduation from high school, custody orders terminate upon the child reaching the age of 18.

When a parent has to engage in the legal system to help with visitation or custody, it can cause stress having to navigate the seemingly complex legal issues. It is important to have a local attorney that understands and can interpret California’s family law.

San Jose Divorce Lawyer, John S. Yohanan, has extensive experience handling child custody and visitation issues. If you want a divorce lawyer with more than 30 years of experience on your side, email us or call our office at (408) 297-0700.

Additional Resources:
Child Custody in California, 2014, Single Parent

Emancipation of Minors, 2014, NOLO Law for All

More Blog Entries:
New Jersey Teen Sues Parents for Support and College Expenses – How California Emancipation Laws Might Apply, Mar. 14, 2014, San Jose Family Law Blog

California Child Custody Laws Can Include Unique Situations Including Military Deployment — In re Marriage of E.U. and J.E, Feb. 28, 2014, San Jose Family Law Blog