• Home
  • Legal Articles
  • Main Line Family Law Attorney Discusses: How Long does a Child Support Obligation Last?

Main Line Family Law Attorney Discusses: How Long does a Child Support Obligation Last?


Main Line Family Law AttorneyIn Pennsylvania, parents have a duty to financially support their children until they become emancipated.  Emancipation occurs when the child turns 18 years old and graduates from high school, whichever occurs last.  This means that when parents are going through a divorce and one parent has a child support obligation to the other, that obligation can continue long past the finalization of the divorce.

But once a child is close to the age of emancipation, the court will send the custodial parent an “emancipation inquiry,” asking for confirmation of when the child will be graduating from high school and turning 18 years old.  Depending on which county your case is taking place in, after they receive confirmation of the emancipation the court might automatically terminate the child support order if there was only one child on the order. If there are other children that remain on the order, the court might simply reallocate the existing child support amount between the remaining unemancipated children, thereby not reducing the overall child support obligation at all.  However, a child support obligation should really be recalculated when an older child becomes emancipated, because the guideline child support obligation for one child is not exactly half of what the obligation would be for two children. A family law attorney can help you determine the correct amount.

Obligations to provide health insurance for a child and share in the child’s unreimbursed medical expenses are also part of the standard child support order.  As a result, when a child becomes emancipated and the child support order is terminated, the parent no longer has a legal obligation to provide health insurance or contribute to medical expenses for the child.  The law regarding emancipation also means that there is no obligation to provide any support to children through their college years, including no obligation to contribute to their college tuition.

There is, however, an exception where a parent in Pennsylvania could be obligated to pay child support after a child has turned 18 and graduated from high school.  This would occur if the child is incapable of self-support through appropriate employment.  In other words, if a child is disabled or has special needs that prevent him or her from having a job and earning an income that is enough to cover basic needs, then as long as there was already a child support order in place, the parent would need to continue paying.  Whether a child is “incapable of self-support” needs to be determined by the court at the time when the child would otherwise become emancipated, and generally requires expert testimony.

The rules surrounding emancipation also apply to custody orders, such that once a child turns 18 and graduates from high school, the court no longer has jurisdiction to enforce custody schedules and the children can really reside with whichever parent they choose, or with neither parent at all.

Call Vetrano|Vetrano & Feinman for Skilled Main Line Family Law Attorneys

Our family lawyers are experienced with all areas of family law, including divorce, child support and child custody. While we work for your best interest, we also endeavor to do so in a manner that maintains harmony for the sake of the family. If you have questions or concerns about an agreement or order for child support or child custody, the Main Line family law attorneys at Vetrano|Vetrano & Feinman LLC can help. Contact us at 610-265-4441.