In California, a child is considered emancipated by the age of 18 or after high school graduation. At this time, the children are still teenagers, but are considered adults, and usually matters like child support and custody laws do not apply to them anymore. A recent unpublished opinion by 6th appellate district, William v. Cavers, explores child custody issues after the child has reached the age of 18.
The William v. Cavers case s a 8.1115 opinion, which means that the court opinion is available to the public, but is not certified for publication under California Rules of Court. It cannot be cited in court, however, it can offer general insight into how California appellate courts handle child custody.
In the William v. Cavers case, the mother petitioned the court for custody when the child turned 17. The father, who was the custodial parent, was against the change, The parents could not come to an agreement with help of a mediator. The mediator recommended that the mother obtain custody at the end of the school year, which the father again opposed. In a later custody hearing, the trial court followed the mediator’s recommendations. The father continued to appeal, and during his appeal process the daughter turned 18 years old.
California can appoint a mediator to assist parents in creating agreements for issues of child support and custody. The mediator can help parents create a parenting plan, which a judge can approve of and make into a support or custody court order. Mediators have extensive education and training for creating a plan in the best interests of the child, though it is recommended that parents have the plan reviewed by a lawyer before signing.
Under California Family Code, the mediator can submit a recommendation to the court if the parents fail to agree on a plan. The court does not have to adopt the mediator’s recommendations, but can use it in their ruling, like they did in this case.
This case is unique in that is rules non custody after a child reaches age 18. It is the first known ruling in the 6th district to do this, however, other districts have made custody rulings on children that are 18 years old.
In the 4th district unpublished opinion, In re Marriage of Jensen (2003) the case was closed. The court ruled a father could not force his child’s mother to encourage the child, both of whom lived in Thailand, to write to the father and attend visits because the child was over 18 years old.
The 4th district made a similar ruling in another published opinion, In re Marriage of Gamble. The case also involved a father who had been in the appeals process while the child turned 18, much like the 6th district case.
Under California Family Code, “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.” Under another statute, “A minor is an individual who is under 18 years of age.” Finally, another statute states, “An adult is an individual who is 18 years of age or older.” The court refers to these sections to rule that a custody hearing is no longer relevant when the child is over 18 years old.