Fighting the Good Fight

Fighting the Good Fight

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Single mom wins court battle in support of her children, uses rarely cited law.

CALIFORNIA – A woman with two children who both suffer from a variety of mental illnesses won an unusual court battle last week in a rural county courtroom. The mother represented herself in three evidentiary hearings using a rarely cited law, California Family Code Section 3910. The code states that parents are to support a child of whatever age who is incapacitated from earning a living and without sufficient means. (for the full code, see below)

The mother is the single mother of two adult children, who both are currently unable to work or attend full time college due to their illness. She is the sole caretaker of both children since the divorce from their father in 2008. The father stopped paying significant child support for each child when they graduated from high school, one in 2013 and the other 2014, leaving the trio without money for rent or utilities. They moved in with a friend who supported them for almost two years. At the time of the final hearing the family was receiving food stamps and were on Medi-Cal.

“It didn’t seem right that I should be both caretaker and breadwinner for my two kids.” she stated. “So I did some research and found California Family Code 3910, it was a godsend.”

In June of 2014 the mother approached the local Self Help Law Center and met with their attorney who told her the chances of winning a case based on Family Code 3910 was a long shot. She also heard from several friends who are familiar with family law that her odds were great. There are only three precedent cases on public record of the code being used. She prepared the documents and gathered the research and information she needed and filed an order anyway.

The first hearing was held in September in which the father attempted to have the case dismissed. His request was denied by the Judge who then ordered an evidentiary hearing for December. The mother asked two key witnesses to attend the December hearing to testify both her children were “incapacitated from earning a living and without sufficient means.” Their family physician and a high-ranking official at the local school district both agreed to attend. She prepared hundreds of pages of medical records and school documents that showed both the children had been treated for a variety of mental illness for more than a decade; including legal contracts used to send both children to Non-Public Schools for students with emotional issues and were paid for by the local school district.

During the hearing the father was hesitant to admit his children were incapacitated from earning a living, suggesting that their son was simply lazy.  After several hours in the courtroom, without calling in the expert witnesses or reviewing the years of records, the father eventually conceded that both children were unable to support themselves. The Judge scheduled a third hearing for February 19, 2015.

At that hearing both parents presented a life-plan for the children as well as their Income and Expense Declarations in order to determine how the children were to be supported. The subsequent order made by the Judge was for the father to continue to pay the full child support amount he would have had to pay had the children still been minors;. The little used family code had another victory on record.

“This is a win not only for my kids, but for the many single moms who are left to raise their special needs children completely alone,” the mother commented. “It is also for a victory for the fight against the stigma of mental illness. Illnesses are illnesses, whether they are in your brain or in the rest of your body.”


The mother appreciates the anonymity of her children as well as other parties involved.

California Family Code Section 3910. (a) The father and mother have an equal responsibility to maintain, to the extent of their ability, a child of whatever age who is incapacitated from earning a living and without sufficient means. 

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6 Responses

  1. I am having to file a 3910 for my daughter. I am in the process of researching this daunting and terrifying project. I would dearly love to be able to communicate with someone who has been through this, and may have some valuable resources for me. I have a court date of September 1, 2015, and I need to get the 3910 pulled together and filed before that time.

    I know that your article was written in anonymity, but perhaps there is a chance that you could contact your source, and see if she would possibly be willing to contact me? You have my email address. I would be ever so grateful.


    • HI Lorelai – I sent you an email, but haven’t heard from you. Check out your spam folder maybe? – Tricia

  2. I am going thru same thing if anyone wants to talk

  3. […] Ten years later our lives had been upended. Both my adorable children were diagnosed with mental illnesses (see Another Day, Another Diagnosis) my marriage fell apart, my daughter and then my son were placed in special schools hundreds of miles from home, their dad remarried and started a new family and I have had to take him to court numerous times to get him to understand that he was still responsible for his first two. (see Fighting the Good Fight) […]

  4. Barbara Murphy

    I went through a 3910 last year and after paying a lawyer $5000, the judge refused to even hear the case, lecturing my lawyer about some Drake Case and saying he wasn’t sure he trusted me; I was in the back of the courtroom and had actually filed this case ON THE ADVICE OF THIS JUDGE, given two years prior. My daughter is profoundly disabled; she has a severe form of a very rare epilepsy syndrome and an attendant behavior disorder that has resulted in my having several severe injuries from her care. There is much more to this than I can write here, but I can tell you that my daughter is considered among the top five most challenging and complex cases in Orange County by Regional Center and, despite the governor’s mandate, she could not be placed anywhere in the state. Her only option would be an institution in Florida with a cost estimated twelve years ago at $55,000 a MONTH. I don’t want my child anywhere but with me. Her father is very comfortable financially and completely uninvolved in her life. I have been putting off a needed spinal fusion for three years because I can’t afford to give up the IHSS income that would entail. I have worked part time off and on since 2003, but medical crises, both mine and hers, have required long periods of leave taken. I am 61 and cannot continue to work around the clock anymore, even for months at a time. I am willing to take on a 3910 on my own, but want to make sure I do it correctly. I have mountains of evidence as to her disability, as it has been since infancy, and no shortage of support from doctors, social workers, regional center caseworkers, friends, relatives, and caregivers who will attest to the severity of my daughter’s condition, needs, and extreme expenses not covered by any agency. Any feedback would be so, so welcome! Thank you.

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