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What Happens to California Child Support Obligations When A Parent Dies? Sanchez v. Navarro

With all of the wrangling between parents that sometimes happens in family law cases, it can be tough at moments to remember that child support is intended to provide for a couple’s children rather than to assess blame between the parents. Generally, parents are expected to provide basic support for their children until each child reaches the age of 18. That obligation may very well stand after one or both parents dies, as California’s Fifth District Court of Appeals recently explained.

beauty-is-temporary-1446186-mMother and Father were never married but had a son in 2006. Two years later, a court granted full custody over the boy to Mother and ordered Father to pay $240 in monthly child support. The court also ordered the parents to split all of Son’s unreimbursed medical costs. Less than a year later, Father sought to have the child support payments modified based on a change in circumstances. He had reached the fourth and final stage of a graduated parenting and visitation plan and was also seeking more unsupervised time with the child.

Father later refiled, asking the court to terminate his child support obligation and to instead order Mother to pay child support to Father. He said he had no income at the time, while Mother was bringing in $8,000 per month. The litigation was extended several times, during which Husband’s child support obligation was temporarily reduced to zero, and Mother eventually died due to illness. Following Mother’s death, Father added the trustee for a trust established to hold Mother’s assets as a defendant in the child support case. The trial court denied his request, however, that it retroactively order Mother to pay child support via funds in the trust.

The Fifth Circuit reversed the decision. “It is well established that a child support obligation survives the death of the supporting parent and is a charge against his or her estate,” the Court said, citing the California Supreme Court’s 1949 decision in Taylor v. George. “In addition to being a charge against a supporting parent’s estate, court-ordered child support becomes a charge against that parent’s living trust, when his or her assets are in such trust rather than in an estate.”

It remained to be determined whether Mother – through her trust, that is – should be ordered to start paying child support in this case. Nevertheless, the Court said the trial judge erred by refusing to consider the matter outright. “Although it may ultimately be determined that a post-death increase is not allowable, we do not see how this decision can made at this stage in the proceedings,” the Court concluded.

If you’re considering seeking a divorce in California, contact San Jose family law lawyer John S. Yohanan. With more than 30 years of experience, Mr. Yohanan is an accomplished family law attorney who has helped a number of clients resolve child support and other issues on optimal terms. Call our office at (408)297-0700 to schedule a consultation.

Related blog posts:

Modifying California Child Support Orders – In re Marriage of Webber and Chen

Child Support and Health Care Costs – In re Marriage of Bareket and Marcus

The ‘Clean Hands’ Requirement in California Child Support Cases – In re Marriage of Boswell