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.