I am commonly asked when a child support obligation ends in Pennsylvania. This inquiry yields a straight-forward response albeit one with an extensive history and varying results. In typical situations, a parent’s duty to provide financial support for a child residing in Pennsylvania will terminate once the child has turned 18 and graduated from high school, whichever event occurs last in time. Therefore, in Pennsylvania, neither parent has an affirmative duty to support their children while he or she attends a post-secondary education. This hasn’t always been the case as the law has evolved over time.
Beginning in 1963, Pennsylvania Courts began issuing a series of decisions which held parents responsible for child support while their adult children attended college. For the next thirty years, this was the law of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. However, in 1992, the law was challenged in the case of Blue v. Blue, 616 A.2d 628 (Pa. Supreme 1992). There, the PA Supreme Court held that there was no legal authority to direct parents to contribute to their adult children’s financial support except in circumstances where their “child” was incapable of supporting herself through employment. As you could imagine, this opinion had a significant effect on numerous support matters particularly those concerning college aged children.
In response to the outcry of numerous parents that were receiving support for their children attending college, the legislature responded with a law that conferred the courts the requisite legal authority to direct contribution in situations wherein the parties were separated or divorced. This law was immediately challenged on an equal protection basis. The argument was that the law discriminated against children of intact families and thus was not equally applied. In 1994, Supreme Court of Pennsylvania agreed, and the law was deemed to be unconstitutional and inapplicable. Since that time, the Commonwealth has refused to hold parents responsible for support of their children once they have graduated from high school and turned 18 years old unless the parties have contractually agreed to the same, typically via a Property Settlement Agreement. This is another important reason why you should consult with a skilled divorce attorney prior to entering into any agreements to resolve your marital claims.
Absent a written agreement, the only other way to continue support past the child’s 18th birthday and date of graduation is if the child is unable to provide his own support, typically the result of a physical or mental disability. In those case, the plaintiff will have the burned to prove to the fact finder that the child cannot adequately care for and/or support him or herself. Absent an agreement, a hearing is typically required to assist the child ability to care for his or herself.
Although the Pennsylvania Rules of Court require Domestic Relations to inquire as to the status of an emancipated child, it is always best to file a timely Petition to Terminate Support to ensure that your obligation is appropriately ended and there is no financial obligation for any overpayments.
If you have a child that will be graduating from high school and you would like to discuss the benefits of having representation, please contact my office for an initial case consultation today.