Termination of child support payments and when is a substantial and nuanced question we often receive as family lawyers.
Child support payments contribute to a variety of expenses that fall to the custodial parent. These can include medical fees, children's school and activity expenses, and food and clothing necessities. These court-ordered payments commonly end when a child reaches the “age of maturity” but do parents know exactly when that age is in PA? And, are they adequately preparing for the termination of the order?
When a family is going through divorce, the court aims to keep the children’s best interests in mind, as do most attorneys. There are legal orders in place to protect children— custody orders seek structure for children’s new living arrangements and child support orders ensure the noncustodial parent contributes financially so the children’s lifestyle is sustained as much as possible.
What is the "Age of Maturity" in Pennsylvania?
The end of the child support order often catches parents by surprise, especially considering the order may have been in place for years. State law dictates when support orders should end. Most states, like Pennsylvania, will end the child support order when the child reaches the “age of maturity” which is typically when the child turns 18 or graduates high school – whichever comes later. In some states the “age of maturity” is 21.
Can a Child Support Order be Terminated Early?
The order can be terminated earlier if the child becomes emancipated. Through a court process, a child can be emancipated because they are able to support themselves. This can coincide with the child leaving the home, joining the military, or getting married.
Can a Child Support Order be Extended?
Alternatively, the order can be extended past age 18 or 21 to provide child support while the child is in college or in cases where the child has special needs.
So, the Termination of Child Support Happens Automatically?
Even though the child support order may include a termination date, it does not end automatically. You must take specific steps to terminate the agreement. Until the order is actually terminated, the noncustodial parent is obligated to continue payment.
What Do I Need to Do to Terminate the Child Support Order?
To anticipate the termination, the parent making payments should file a modification petition a few months in advance of the expected end date. In cases with multiple children, this must be done individually for each child.
What if Child Support Money is Still Owed?
When the time comes to terminate a child support order, there may be a past due balance of payments. Money that is still owed is referred to as “arrears.” Arrears are owed even after the support order is legally terminated.
Can I Get Child Support Owed Reduced?
Best practice is to try to get the arrear balance reduced prior to termination. The court will typically provide options such as making lump payments when possible, or reducing the amount of each payment to prevent skipping.
What If They Won't Pay the Owed Child Support?
That's where Custodial parents may need the help of a family attorney. They may land in a situation where they need legal assistance to collect the balance. In these cases, they may have to file a separate civil action to recover the credit.
Try as we might to stop time, children eventually grow up. In the rush that goes along with experiencing a big moment in your child’s life – turning 18, getting married, or graduating and going off to college or the military – pausing to accomplish your associated parental duties is just as important as taking time to enjoy the moment. For divorced parents, determining the future of the child support order is likely one of these duties. As a both a parent and a family law attorney, I hope this article provides guidance to separated parents.