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Duty of Support after Adulthood

Most of the cases concerning support that we handle day in and day out involve support of minor children.

David Walker | Attorney at Law

The duty to support a child in Georgia ends on the child’s 18th birthday, with the exception that the duty to pay court ordered child support can continue to age 20 if the child is in high school. After that, the kids are off the payroll, right? Maybe not…here is a not-well-known code section from Georgia law on the subject., OCGA section 36-12-3.

OCGA section 36-12-3 states that “the father, mother, or child of any pauper contemplated by OCGA section 36-12-2, if sufficiently able, shall support the pauper. Any county having provided for such pauper upon the failure of such relatives to do so may bring an action against such relatives of full age and recover for the provisions so furnished. The certificate of the judge of the probate court that the person was poor and was unable to sustain himself and that he was maintained at the expense of the county shall be presumptive evidence of such maintenance and the costs thereof.”

A pauper is defined as follows under OCGA section 36-12-2: “No person who is able to maintain himself by labor or who has sufficient means shall be entitled to the benefits of the provision for the poor. In cases where women are unable to maintain themselves and the helpless children they may have, they may be aided to the extent required in the furnishing of food, clothing, or shelter.”

About half of the states have this kind of law. It provides for a duty to support not only the child, but parents, if these persons are paupers. These laws are not uniformly written or enforced, and there is no national or federal law that directly covers the subject. These filial responsibility laws are not new. England had similar laws in the 17th century. Many U.S. states have such laws, but they have been rarely enforced. Georgia and other states provide for a financial penalty. A relatively small number of states have criminal penalties. Federal law limits use of such laws for persons receiving Medicaid benefits. At common law, a child had no duty to support a parent. So, in states without such specific laws, there is no duty to support adults.

How poor one must be to qualify as a pauper is not clear in the Georgia Code. Terms such as “maintain himself” or “sufficient means” are not well defined, so it is difficult to predict what courts might do if such cases arise.

There is one Georgia case concerning this statute. Citizens & Southern Nat. Bank v. Cook, 182 Ga. 240, 185 S.E. 318 (Ga., 1936) is a case of a destitute mother who sued the bank as guardian of her disabled son, and the court ordered that the mother be paid a portion of his military disability income.