The Coogan Law was enacted in 1938 [now Family Code section 6750 et seq.] in response to the childhood star Jackie Coogan’s plight. Even though he earned millions as a child, Coogan was surprised to find out that when he reached adulthood that he was flat broke, because his mother and stepfather spent all his money….legally.
Coogan as a child actor with Charlie Chaplin in The Kid (1921)
The “Coogan Act” is one of the earliest measures created to protect children working within the film industry. It is named after Jackie Coogan, who played the role of the child in Charlie Chaplin’s “The Kid”. Jackie Coogan’s mother and stepfather famously squandered their child’s earnings from the movie, which prompted Jackie to sue them when he turned 21. It’s estimated that Jackie’s family spent what would be worth between $3 – 4 million dollars in today’s day and age that should have belonged to him.
The legal battle brought attention to the disadvantages child actors faced and resulted in the 1939 enactment of the California Child Actor’s Bill, often referred to as the “Coogan Law” or the “Coogan Act”.To this day, the Act requires that a child actor’s employer set aside 15% of the earnings in a trust account, and regulates the actor’s schooling, work hours, and time off.
Hiring A Minor
The first step when hiring a minor is to make sure that their parents have set up a “Coogan account” for their child. Coogan accounts are specific to the entertainment industry and not provided by every banking institution. Some states also accept alternative types of trust accounts, such as;
Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA),
- The term Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA) refers to a law that allows a minor to receive gifts without the aid of a guardian or trustee. Gifts can include money, patents, royalties, real estate, and fine art.
Uniform Gifts to Minors Act (UGMA)
- The Uniform Gifts to Minors Act (UGMA) provides a way to transfer financial assets to a minor without the time-consuming and expensive establishment of a formal trust.
- Your child’s employer must withhold the 15 percent and deposit it into your child’s Coogan Account within 15 days of hiring.
Working in different States
Texas, like many states, requires children under the age of 16 to obtain permits to work and each permit is only good within the state that issued it. This means that if a child working primarily in Texas lands a role in a commercial taking place in Oklahoma, Arkansas, or Louisiana, then they will need to obtain another permit for that particular state.
UNDERSTANDING THE COOGEN'S LAW by SAG-AFTRA Foundation
SETTING UP THE ACCOUNT
As the guardian of the child performer, it is ordinarily your responsibility to open the Coogan Account immediately upon the signing of the child performer’s employment contract—the requirements for setting the account up vary by state (it’s also important to remember that the account should, in most circumstances, be set up in the state where the hiring company is headquartered), and the procedures vary by financial institution (not all banks offer blocked trust accounts)
To open a Coogan Account, you typically will need (1) the child’s Social Security number; (2) the child’s birth certificate; (3) a fee and initial deposit; (4) a proof of audition within the last 30 days, a copy of the child’s employment contract, or a copy of a paystub that shows the child is working for a company in the entertainment industry dated within the last 30 days; and (5) proof of your identity as the child’s guardian (note: a court order is no longer required to open a Coogan Account)
Provide the Coogan Account number to the child’s employer, Casting Director or the production company which ever is readily available. It is necessary that the Coogan or Trust account statement feature both the routing and account numbers.
From there, your payroll company will use this information to issue 2 payments:
- 75% of the wages will be paid in the minor’s name and mailed to his/her guardians.
- 15% of the wages will be paid via direct deposit into the Coogan or Trust account.
Note: Parents can choose to adjust this breakdown in favor of the child. Up to 100% of the minor’s payment can be set aside in the Coogan account.
California: the account must be opened with a bank, credit union, or brokerage firm located in the state of California
Illinois: the account may be opened with any bank, credit union, or brokerage firm in any state
Louisiana: the account may be opened with any bank, credit union, or brokerage firm in any state
New Mexico: the account may be opened with any bank, credit union, or brokerage firm in any state, and a Coogan Account is only required if the child performer earns more than $1,000 on a job
New York: the account may be opened with any bank, credit union, or brokerage firm in any state, and the account needs to be a custodial account under the Uniform Gift to Minors Act or the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (it does not need to be a true “Coogan Account.”
Texas’ child labor laws apply to all children under the age of 18 working in Texas, whether or not they reside in the state.
NOTE: By California law, when a California employer takes a resident minor out-of-state, California laws apply. In addition to the child labor laws, specific laws apply to employment of child actors under age 14, children under age 14 working as extras, children age 14-15 and children age 16-17.
Child Actors Under Age 14 – Application for Child Actor/Performer Authorization
Prior to employment, every child actor under age 14 (except those working as extras; see below) must have an authorization of employment from the TWC. To apply:
- fill out the application form available from the TWC’s Labor Law Section (in Texas, call 800-832-9243; outside Texas, call 512-475-2670);
- attach a recent, 1½ inch x 1½ inch photo of the child;
- include proof of age, such as a copy of the child’s birth certificate; and
- have the application signed by the child’s parent or legal guardian.
The TWC may then issue its authorization for employment in the form of an ID card. The card is valid until the child’s 14th birthday, unless the TWC designates an earlier expiration date.
- For a list of limitations on Employment of Child Actors under the age of 14, please refer to the “Limitations on Employment of Child Actors,” Section 817.33 of the Texas Child Labor Rules in the Texas Administrative Code.
- Additionally, please refer to the Texas Workforce Commission’s Child Labor Law portion of their website for further restrictions/limitations on employment.
- The TWC may grant special authorization for children under age 14 to be employed as extras without the need for filing an application. The employer or their agent must meet the requirements outlined in the Texas Administrative Code.
- For a list of requirements, please refer to the “Application Exceptions,” Section 817.32 of the Texas Child Labor Rules in the Texas Administrative Code.
Actors age 14-15 are not considered to be child actors, so the rules for child actors do not apply. But their employment is subject to Texas’ child labor laws. The TWC’s website details the following:
- Hours of Employment for children age 14-15.
- Permitted Occupations for children age 14-15.
- Prohibited Occupations for children age 14-15.
NOTE: Federal child labor law has stricter limitations than State of Texas law on hours of employment for children ages 14-15.
For further information, see the U.S. Department of Labor’s website detailing hours of employment, the Work Experience and Career Exploration Program (WECEP) and Work-Study Programs (WSP).
Actors age 16-17 are not considered to be child actors, but their employment is subject to Texas’ child labor laws. Neither the State of Texas or the federal government restricts hours of employment for children age 16-17.
Production Companies are increasingly expanding outside of the major filming hubs like California, Georgia, and Louisiana, so the above information may not apply if a production takes you or your child to an unfamiliar state. It is therefore important to fully understand how a state’s child labor laws may affect your child’s rights, and it is always a best practice to either reach out to the appropriate state’s Labor Department to clear up any questions or concerns you may have before showing up on set, or touch base with an experienced entertainment attorney who can help you navigate these murky waters.
Either way, doing your due diligence ahead of time will ensure your compliance with the law, enable your child to work as a performer in “the business,” and give you the peace of mind knowing that your child will be set up for financial success upon reaching adulthood.
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