Every parent in California has a legal duty to financially support their children. After all, children cannot work, and the state seeks to prevent child poverty at all costs. As a result, custodial parents have many options for ensuring that the paying parent meets their child support obligations.

However, what happens when a paying parent dies? In this case, the child still requires financial support until they reach adulthood, but the deceased parent can no longer earn an income to support them. When this happens, California favors the child’s interests and still allows the surviving parent to pursue child support from the deceased parent.

Child Support Orders

Child support is usually ordered to ensure that parents share the financial support of their children. If the child lives with one parent more than the other, the court may order child support to even the percentage of resources contributed by each parent.

Similarly, suppose one parent acts primarily as a caregiver while the other parent has a career. A judge might order the working parent to help the caregiving parent.

In deciding how much child support to order, the judge will review each parent’s resources and the child’s needs. To ensure that children receive adequate financial support and that parents have manageable child support obligations, California requires courts to follow uniform child support guidelines.

These guidelines use many factors to calculate child support. The state has coded them into a Guideline Calculator, which is used to estimate your child support payments by entering data from tax filings. 

Child support orders usually happen in two contexts:

Parentage Cases

Also called paternity cases, these proceedings are intended to prove the legal parentage of a child when the parents were unmarried at the time of conception or even when the child’s biological parents were married to other people. Once parentage is established, a judge can order a parent to pay child support.

Divorce Cases

When parents divorce, the entire family’s living arrangements change. Equally importantly, the parents are no longer treated as a unit for financial purposes. As a result, a judge can look at the two parents separately and determine the financial obligations each will incur while raising the couple’s children.

What Happens When a Parent Dies?

California’s position is clear. A parent’s obligation to support their minor children continues after they die. This obligation remains even if a child:

  • Was the beneficiary of a trust
  • Received proceeds from a life insurance policy
  • Inherited property from the deceased parent
  • Was paid benefits by the Social Security Administration

The parent receiving child support has a few options for enforcing the obligation.

Probate Court

When someone dies, a probate court works with the executor of the deceased person’s estate to wind up their affairs and dispose of their property. One step of winding up their affairs involves paying any debts owned by the deceased.

The probate court reviews claims against the estate. If it determines that the debts are legitimate, it orders the executor to pay them from the deceased person’s estate.

The surviving parent could appear as a creditor of the deceased parent in probate court. This tactic is particularly useful if the parent had fallen behind on child support payments before their passing. The probate court could verify the child support obligation and order the executor to pay it.

Family Court

The surviving parent could simply remind the executor that the child support obligation survived the parent’s death. This puts the executor in the position of either paying the obligation or filing a petition in family court to modify the obligation.

A family court judge will probably be reluctant to modify the order unless the child receives a windfall from another source, like a life insurance policy or trust.

Getting Child Support After the Death of a Parent

California law favors child support after a parent’s death. If you stay involved in the winding up of your co-parent’s affairs, you should be able to ensure your child’s future. An experienced family lawyer can help protect your interest and aim to make the process go as smoothly as possible.

Contact Our Child Support Law Firm in San Diego, CA

Contact our experienced San Diego child support lawyers at San Diego Divorce Lawyers, APC today for legal assistance. Contact our San Diego office at (619) 866-3756 to schedule a free consultation.

San Diego Divorce Lawyers, APC
2851 Camino del Rio S #430
San Diego, CA 92108