When Does Child Support End?

Generally speaking, the obligation of one parent (usually the one with partial physical custody) to the other parent (usually the one with primary physical custody) for payment of child support ends when the child reaches age 18 or graduates from high school, whichever comes last.

As with many matters, there are exceptions. There remains a duty to continue paying any arrears which have accumulated prior to the effective date of termination. Customarily courts order the same basic amount to continue to be paid until the arrears are zero and the case can be closed.

Child support may be required to continue, in the discretion of the court, if a child is handicapped or otherwise unable to sustain himself or has special needs. This can last indefinitely. If that child has reached majority, and is institutionalized or gets other governmental benefits, both parents may be liable for child support or to re-pay those benefits to the governmental entity or institution.

If a child is still a minor but is emancipated, child support may be able to be terminated. Emancipation may mean married, living independently, out of school and employed and earning a sufficient living.

There is no duty in Pennsylvania for a parent to pay college expenses or support during college, meaning any post-high school educational costs. However, if the parties were married and included a college expenses or support obligation in a post-nuptial or property settlement agreement, that duty is enforceable by a court.  Similarly, absent a written agreement to do so, a parent cannot be forced to maintain health insurance for a child after his or her child support obligation terminates.

If you have a child support element in your family law matter, all of the foregoing should be explored.

By: David I. Grunfeld, Esquire