Understanding the Coogan law

Coogan Act: Understanding the California Child Actor’s Bill

John Leslie “Jackie” Coogan was one of the earliest child actors that rose to prominence in Hollywood. He began his career as an infant, getting an uncredited role in the 1917 film Skinner’s Baby. It wasn’t until Coogan was cast alongside Charlie Chaplin in the classic film The Kid that he finally gained the recognition he deserved. Coogan acted in more films until he became an adult. It was then he discovered that his own mother and stepfather had spent all of his earnings as a young performer. Coogan sued them both in a case that received widespread media attention. The plight he endured prompted lawmakers to come up with a law that protects child performers, which is now known as the Coogan Act.

What is the Coogan Act?

Coogan Act

The California Child Actor’s Bill, also known as the Coogan Act, is a law designed to protect the earnings of child performers. The original bill was passed by the State of California in 1939 following the case of Jackie Coogan. The most recent revision of the bill was on January 1, 2004. At present, Coogan Law states that the money earned and accumulated under a certain contract belongs to the sole property of the minor.

Parents or guardians of young actors have to be aware of the strict labor laws for child performers. In California, work permits are controlled by the age of the performer. Mandatory rules include having the parent present on set all times, three hours of on-set schooling with a licensed instructor each day, and strictly no overtime work. Blocked trust accounts, known as Coogan Accounts, should be set up to collect 15 percent of the child’s earnings, an amount they can only access when they reach adulthood.

Coogan Trust Accounts

Child Playing Cards with Parent

Parents need to know that not all banks offer Coogan Trust Accounts, so it is better to ask ahead. To give you a heads-up, here are accredited unions and brokerage firms that offer Coogan/Trust Accounts.

  • Actors Federal Credit Union
  • Wells Fargo
  • City National Bank
  • SAG-AFTRA Federal Credit Union
  • Bank of the West
  • First Entertainment Credit Union
  • Morgan Stanley/Smith Barney
  • Union Bank of California

Another thing to take note of is that each of these financial institutions might have different requirements for opening an account. For example, some may require a first paycheck or a minimum deposit to apply. Make it a point to compare each one to find the best institution for you and the child actor.

Child actor laws in other regions


New York

Parents and guardians based in New York City are required to open an UTMA/UGMA trust account. The terms and conditions of the account are similar to the Coogan Act. It can be opened with any bank around the country as long as it meets the requirements.

New Mexico and Louisiana

Parents in Louisiana have to open a blocked trust account with any bank in the country. On the other hand, parents in New Mexico are required to open a blocked trust account only if the child earns more than $1,000 per employment contract.

For more information on child labor laws, please click here.