The answer to this question seems straightforward: According to PA law, child support ends when the child turns 18 or graduates from high school, whichever is later, unless the parents have agreed in writing to continued support or it has been ordered by the courts because of the special needs of the child.
The law is explicit, but there are a few caveats. Although efforts are made in the law to create a system of oversight, you can’t depend on the overburdened court system to know when your child’s support should end and terminate the order automatically. Additionally, you do have options to modify child support, whether you are the custodial parent or the parent paying the support.
The Domestic Relations Section office (DRS) of the state in which the child support order was given is expected to send an inquiry to the custodial parent within 6 months prior to the child’s 18th birthday, confirming the birthday, graduation date, and any written agreements for the continuation of support. If the custodial parent does not respond within 30 days or confirms the dates and there are no legal agreements for continuation, the charging order may be modified or terminated in court automatically – but don’t count on it. If you are the paying parent and you want to terminate payments, you should take the matter into your own hands.
In order to request a modification or termination order, a few months before your child graduates or turns 18, file a Petition for Modification of an Existing Support Order with the DRS in the county listed at the top of your child support order. The custodial parent will be notified and will have the opportunity to appear to contest the petition. If you are the paying parent, whatever you do, don’t stop paying before the court order is changed. The courts will enforce any agreement you have with the other parent, taking it out of your wages and possibly adding a penalty on top of that. And if you have other children you are continuing to support after one child reaches emancipation age, the change in payments may not be significant.
There are a number of circumstances that can justify the modification or termination of child support, and either parent can petition for modification:
- The income of either parent changes materially
- A serious injury or medical condition of either parent or child occurs
- Living status changes (for instance, the child moves out or custodial parent moves in with someone else) The child’s educational needs change
- The paying parent’s responsibilities to other children or aging parents increases
Reach out to us if you have any questions about whether your situation would justify a modification or termination of child support.