A divorce ends a marriage, but if the spouses are parents, divorce does not end their relationship. If you are divorcing in Pennsylvania or if you are involved in a dispute over child support after your divorce, you must be advised and represented by a Pennsylvania child support attorney.

After a divorce in Pennsylvania, will a parent be obligated to pay for a child’s college tuition? What are a Pennsylvania parent’s rights and obligations when it comes to child support? What do divorced and divorcing parents need to know about the child support laws in this state?

If you’ll keep reading this brief discussion of a divorced parent’s child support obligations in Pennsylvania, these questions will be answered, and you will also learn how a Pennsylvania family law attorney will provide the legal help you may need in a child support dispute.

How Does Pennsylvania Law Address Child Support?

All Pennsylvania parents are legally obligated to provide financial support for their children. When a divorce is finalized, a child support order will be issued by the court requiring one parent to make monthly payments to the other parent to share the expenses of child-raising.

The parent who has the most time with the child (the “custodial parent”) usually receives child support payments from the other (“noncustodial”) parent. Pennsylvania law presumes that a custodial parent already supports the child financially.

The amount of child support ordered by the court is based on the state’s child support guidelines, which take into account the number of children and the income of each parent. Judges have some flexibility to account for a child’s needs, a parent’s ability to pay, and the custody arrangement.

When May Judges Diverge From the Child Support Guidelines?

On the basis of the factors listed below, a Pennsylvania judge may increase or decrease the amount of child support indicated by the state’s child support guidelines:

  1.  a parent’s or child’s unusual needs or unusual obligations
  2.  a parents’ other child support obligations
  3.  the child’s age
  4.  the combined assets and liabilities of the parents
  5.  medical costs not covered by health insurance
  6.  the family’s standard of living
  7.  most importantly, the child’s best interests

In any matter involving a child that comes before a Pennsylvania court, the child’s best interests will always be the court’s highest priority.

For How Long Are Child Support Payments Required?

In most cases, a noncustodial parent in Pennsylvania must make child support payments until a child reaches the age of 18. If the child is physically or emotionally challenged or disabled, the court may order child support payments to continue beyond the child’s 18th birthday.

Generally speaking, the expenses of a child’s education are addressed in the divorce process along with the other child support issues.

While several states require some divorced parents to pay for their children’s college expenses, Pennsylvania does not require college expense payments or reimbursement for those payments from a parent.

Should You Negotiate College Costs With the Other Parent?

Nevertheless, to keep a dispute over child support payments from emerging in the future, you may choose to negotiate college tuition costs during the divorce process. Take into account scholarship opportunities and other tuition payment options, and adhere to your lawyer’s advice.

A modification of the child support order may be requested at any time, and is sometimes necessary, but you will save time and money by negotiating with the other parent and reaching agreements, if possible, during the divorce process. Here are several possible options:

  1.  In some cases, a parent who served in the military may transfer GI Bill benefits to a child or spouse. If that parent is the noncustodial parent, he or she may negotiate, for example, that the transfer covers a child’s college expenses or decreases child support payments.
  2.  If one parent is employed by a college or university, these institutions often reduce tuition for employees’ families, but a negotiated agreement with the other parent must consider what happens if the parent leaves the job or a child doesn’t wish to attend that institution.
  3.  When parents negotiate a child support agreement, they should also determine what effect a scholarship award to the child may have on the amount each parent has agreed to pay.

When May a Child Support Agreement Be Changed?

The courts understand that life’s circumstances change. When you divorce, it is impossible to know the future. Over time, parenting plans and child custody orders can become outdated or unworkable.

However, if you need to change a negotiated child support agreement or a court-ordered child support arrangement, you will need to have a Pennsylvania child support attorney request a modification of the agreement or order on your behalf.

Pennsylvania courts will approve only those modifications that are considered to be in the child’s best interests. Child support modifications may be sought for reasons that include but are not limited to:

  1.  a change in the amount of time either parent spends with the child
  2.  a change in the child’s medical, educational, or child care needs
  3.  a remarriage by either parent or the birth of a new child to either parent
  4.  either parent’s loss of a job, a parent’s new job, or a parent’s need to relocate
  5.  the serious injury, incarceration, or institutionalization of either parent
  6.  anything that greatly impacts the child, either parent, or the child support arrangement

What Else Should Parents Know?

As mentioned previously, Pennsylvania does not require college expense payments or reimbursement for those payments from a parent. Nevertheless, it is a smart idea to reach an agreement in the divorce settlement regarding a child’s college expenses.

If you are a parent who is divorcing, considering a divorce, or anticipating a divorce, if you need a modification of your child support order, or if you need to challenge the other parent’s requested modification of the child support order, you must be advised and represented by a Pennsylvania family law attorney, and you must contact that attorney as soon as possible.

Divorce and family law are complicated in the State of Pennsylvania. You can’t go it alone. Get the help you need – as quickly as you can – from a family law attorney you can trust.

The right family law attorney will help you obtain a fair and proper child support arrangement while ensuring that your rights – and your child’s best interests – are protected throughout the legal process.

If you have children, and are going through a divorce or separation a major thought on your mind is probably what is going to happen with the kids? Who is going to get custody? How is custody decided? What are the different types of custody schedules? These are all very valid and important questions and I know these thoughts can cause anxiety, fear and worry as well. This will give you a little overview on the types of custody in Pennsylvania to try inform you of more information and try and answer some of your questions.

First of all, there are two types of custody. There is legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody is the right to make decisions for child. Decisions such as where your child attends school, what doctors your child sees, if they are involved in any religious activities are all examples of what would fall under the category of legal custody. Usually legal custody is shared between parents, however in some circumstances legal custody may be solely awarded to one parent.

Next, there is physical custody. Physical custody refers to who the child is physically with. Typically, in any court order there would be an included physical custody schedule. The first kind of physical custody is sole physical custody. This is where one parent has physical custody of the child 100% of the time. Another form of physical custody is shared legal custody where parents share physical custody time. The two common schedules with shared physical custody are 50/50 or a primary/partial schedule. In a 50/50 physical custody schedule the parents share custody and each have the child 50% of the time. A common schedule for this is called a 2, 2, 3 schedule where one parent has the child Monday and Tuesday night, the other parent Wednesday and Thursday night and then the parents alternate week to week who has the child Friday through Sunday. There are other schedules that can be worked out as well. With a primary/partial schedule this is where one parent has physical custody time more than the other. An example of this type of schedule would be where one parent has custody every other weekend. A third custody arrangement could also be supervised visitation. This would mean that one parent would have custody of the child however the other parent has the right to visit with the child so long as they are properly supervised.

When two people have a child together, whether married or not, sometimes it just does not work out and they decide to separate. It is great when two parents who are no longer together have a strong co parenting relationship and can remain amicable with each other for the sake of their children. If you find yourself in one of those relationships you might think that you do not need a child support order because you and the other parent work everything out on your own and so far you have had no issues. While it may seem great that you are able to work everything out between the two of you, it is best to seek a child support order issued by the court.

Why would you want to get a child support order when you have been working it out yourselves? What happens if the payments that you have relied on and worked out between you two stop coming in. What course of action do you have? You call the other parent, you email them but no matter what you do they still are not receiving any financial assistance for your child. They keep telling you they will have it to you soon and then months go by and you have not received anything. By having a child support order you are protecting yourself from this scenario. In most child support orders, if the other parent is a W-2 employee, the child support will be attached to the other parent’s wages so as long as they are being paid you can be assured you will get your support payment. If there is an order and the payments are made directly to you and they stop paying you have options there as well if you have a support order. You can file for enforcement of the child support payments. Having a child support order protects and reassures you that the financial support you rely on for your child will not just disappear one day.

Both child and spousal support awards are primarily based on the income of the parties. Prior to establishment of an Order, both parties are directed to show proof of income and relevant expenses. With respect to income, this can include recent pay stubs, last filed tax return and W-2, disability payment statements, retirement payment statements, unemployment, etc. Relevant expenses may include health insurance premiums, mortgage payments, child care costs, and private school tuition. It is the responsibility of the parties to petition the court to review a previously entered support Order if circumstances (i.e. income of parties or expenses) change.

During this pandemic, many individuals have experienced changes in income and expenses. With many industries affected by various policies intended to slow the spread of coronavirus, hours have been cut or jobs lost. Where schools have closed, there could be new child care costs if both parents are still working outside of the home. Alternatively, child care costs may have been eliminated if a parent is now working from home and able to watch their child as well. Regardless of the nature of the change, the first step to take is to file a request for modification if you have a court-ordered support award. Second, the filing party should gather all the documentation reflecting the changes. It is also important to attempt to determine how long the new circumstances will last. For example, if you have a date that you are returning to work or that your children are returning to child care. The courts understand this is an unprecedented situation for all of us and are doing their best to balance the need for support with the current circumstances of the parties.

After your adoption hearing, you can take steps to update your child’s name and/or birth certificate, where necessary. To obtain a new birth certificate you will need to submit a request through Vital Records in the state that issued the initial birth certificate. If outside of Pennsylvania, check with the local office regarding their specific requirements. For Pennsylvania birth certificates, a Certificate of Adoption is forwarded by the court to Vital Records to alert them the adoption was finalized. You would then contact Vital Records with a request for a new birth certificate and submit the applicable fee. Pennsylvania presently charges $20 for a new birth certificate, unless you are a military member, in which case the fee can be waived. The adoptive parents’ names and child’s name after adoption should be included in the application for birth certificate. The completed application, ID and payment would then go to Vital Records.

Processing times for receipt of the new birth certificate vary. The average time for adoptions is currently five (5) weeks. These steps are for a child born in Pennsylvania. For additional information on requesting a new birth certificate through Pennsylvania visit: https://www.health.pa.gov/topics/certificates/Pages/Birth-Certificates.aspx

After receiving the new birth certificate and depending on the age of the child, you may also need to update records at school, the doctor’s office, Social Security, etc. You may need to present your certified Decree of Adoption from the court in addition to new birth certificate to verify legal name change. Additional certified copies of your adoption decree can be requested through the court at a nominal cost.

The rights of the other biological parent will need to be terminated in connection with any adoption. Their parental rights can be terminated voluntarily or involuntarily. With voluntary termination the other natural parent will sign a consent to the adoption which is subsequently attached to the Petition for Adoption. There must be at least thirty (30) days between when the consent is signed and when adoption petition is filed with the court since there is a thirty (30) day revocation period. With involuntary termination, you will plead the applicable grounds for involuntary termination within your adoption petition. A filing fee is payable to the county at the time you file your petition for adoption. After filing the Petition, you will receive notice of when you are scheduled for your hearing. You will need to notify any party that is required to receive notice of the hearing per the adoption statutes in advance of the hearing.

With a kinship adoption the prospective parents will need to have three background checks completed prior to filing an adoption petition. Presently, the required background checks for Pennsylvania include (1) Child Abuse History Clearance; (2) PA State Police Criminal Record Check; and (3) FBI Criminal Background Check through the Department of Welfare. The results of these background checks should be attached to the adoption petition. A home study is not required. A hearing will be scheduled by the court within a few months from filing the petition. If heading straight to adoption hearing because natural parents consent to adoption the total process can be completed in a few months. If an involuntary termination hearing is required before the adoption hearing the process can take twice as long.

Adoption will establish all the legal rights, duties and responsibilities as exist for natural born children between the adoptee and the prospective parent(s). Those rights and duties include, but are not limited to, the right of the child to inherit through you and your family, the legal obligation to financially support the child, the right of the child to seek support from you, the principle that these rights and duties would continue if you and your spouse separate or divorce as well as if the child develops any physical, psychological problems or becomes ill or disabled for any reason in the future.

At the final adoption hearing, your attorney and/or the Judge will confirm whether you understand the legal consequence of finalizing the adoption matter. A final adoption decree is issued following a successful hearing. Subsequent to receipt of the decree and barring any legal appeal, adoption is permanent and cannot be undone. Parties may elect to add the child to their health insurance or other benefits once the adoption is finalized and they can provide proof of their legally recognized parent-child relationship. The birth certificate for the child can also be updated at this time.  By April M. Townsend

Guardianship of an incapacitated person refers to the authority to make decisions on behalf of an adult individual who has been adjudicated as such by the court. The standard for incapacity involves an analysis of whether the individual can manage their financial resources and/or meet essential requirements for their own health and safety. The first step for a party interested in pursuing guardianship of someone is to file a petition with the court. At the time of filing the petition, the proposed guardian must now submit record of criminal background search from the Pennsylvania State Police. Additionally, if the incapacitated person suffers from mental health issues, a notice of mental health commitment form should be included.

The opinion of a medical expert regarding the extent of the incapacity and the potential necessity for a guardian is required. The Rules now provide for the expert to complete an expert report which may replace requirement of physical testimony in court. The Petitioner has the burden to prove incapacity by clear and convincing evidence. Notice of the hearing and a copy of the petition must be served on the individual for whom guardianship is sought (Respondent) explaining in plain language the possible ramifications of the forthcoming legal proceedings. Notice must also be given to additional interested parties such as family members.  By April M. Townsend


There are two options to place a child for adoption. The first option is to surrender the child to the appropriate agency. This can include the county social services agency or private adoption agency. Under 23 Pa C.S. 2501, written notice of intent to give custody of the child to the agency should be presented to the agency. The natural parents should also cooperate in petitioning the court for permission to voluntarily relinquish their parental rights to the child. The agency must consent to accept custody of the child. To the extent the natural parents are under 18, the consent of their parent(s) is not required.

Natural parents may also elect to surrender the child to an individual. The individual(s) accepting custody of the child will need to file a report of intent to adopt as well as sign a consent accepting custody of the child. They will also need to follow the other procedures for adoption which include getting necessary clearances as well as getting a home study, where applicable. Again, the natural parents should cooperate in petitioning the court for voluntary relinquishment of their parental rights. Alternatively, if the natural parents are consenting to the adoption, a petition for confirmation of consent can be filed instead. The court will schedule a hearing following receipt of petition for voluntary relinquishment or confirmation of consent. Notice of the hearing date must be served on natural parents as well as their parent(s) if they are still minors at the time. The natural parents should appear at the hearing. The court may enter a final decree of termination of parental rights after the hearing.  By April M. Townsend

The amount of child support to be awarded in a case is based on statewide guidelines established by the state’s Supreme Court. The starting point for applying the guidelines is to identify the monthly income of the parents as well as the number of children in need of support. The guidelines are intended to ensure that similarly situated parties are treated similarly. Once the amount of support per the guidelines is identified, the amount is allocated between the parties based on their respective income as well as the custody schedule. The amount of support reflected in the guidelines is based on the average expenditures of children for food, housing, transportation and other necessary miscellaneous items.

Additional expenses for the children can be addressed as part of a child support award, such as cost of health insurance, daycare, private school tuition or camp. The amount of support dictated by the guidelines is presumed to be correct. There is not much room for argument as far as what amount of support is appropriate. The guidelines make financial support of children a top priority and the expectation is that other expenses will be adjusted to ensure the child support obligation can be met. Either party can initiate a complaint for child support to get a court order on the amount owed. Wage garnishment is the preferred method of collection for child support and the court will seek to have any support due taken directly from the pay check of the party paying support. Set up a consult with one of our experienced attorneys to better understand your obligations in child support.