By Liz Billies
Memorial Day, the unofficial start to summer, is almost here. While it certainly ushers in more BBQs and trips to the Shore, it also signals the start of high-school graduation season. Graduation is a special time for all graduates and their loved ones alike, but it can have additional significance for divorced or separated parents.
Why? Because it may signal the end to child support payments. So, what does high-school graduation and child support have to do with one another? Let me explain.
Under Pennsylvania law, a child is considered emancipated (i.e., no longer a minor) when he or she turns 18 or graduates from high school, which ever comes last. Therefore, if your child turned 18 during his or her senior year of high school, that family member is not considered emancipated until graduation.
Once a child is emancipated, his or her parent’s obligation to pay for child support ends. Pennsylvania does not require either parent to contribute to college costs. In other words, once your child reaches that 18th birthday or graduates from high school, your obligation to support them under Pa. law ends. Anything you (or your co-parent) choose to do after that point is strictly voluntary.
So what should you do if you have a graduating senior and a child support obligation?
Your county’s Domestic Relations Office will send a letter to both parents requesting information about your child’s graduation date in February or March of the graduation year. If this is your last child to graduate high school (or your only child), you need only to confirm the same-year graduation and the 18 years of age.
Then, the office will administratively close your case as of the date of the graduation. There is nothing further that you need to do to stop your child support payments.
However, this is not the case if you have other children under the age of 18 to whom a child support obligation would still be owed. While the Domestic Relations Office will remove your graduating child from your child support order, they will not recalculate your child support obligation based on the number of remaining children.
In other words, your monthly child support amount will remain the same unless you do something about it.
So what should you do? First, before you file a petition to modify the amount based upon this emancipation, it is important to speak to a family law attorney about your situation.
It may be some time since your child support order was calculated. What if your income has changed? Or your co-parent’s income? Is your custodial arrangement different?
Based upon the answers to these questions, it is possible that a modification could actually result in a higher support obligation or one that is substantially similar to what you are paying or receiving currently. Your family law attorney should be able to calculate what your potential new support obligation could be and will be able to advise you as to whether filing a petition is in your best interests.
So between ordering a cake and gathering celebratory balloons, make sure to schedule time with an experienced family law attorney to discuss what your child’s graduation means for your child support obligation.
Do you have a child support question or another family law issue that needs attention? Please contact one of our family law lawyers to see how we can help.
Elizabeth J. Billies, Partner
Liz practices all areas of family law, including but not limited to, preparing pre-and post-nuptial agreements, obtaining no-fault and fault divorces, as well as litigating and settling equitable distribution, custody, and support matters.
Her clients value her collaborative and cost-effective approach to legal representation. Liz strives to resolve all matters expeditiously and efficiently while maintaining a high level of compassion and attention to detail.
If you have a divorce or family law question, please contact a member of our team or call 215.362.2474.