How Soon Before Graduation Can You Terminate Child Support in Pennsylvania?
By Kelly Mroz
In Pennsylvania, parents are not required to pay for their children's college educations. As a result, high school graduation often marks the end of child support payments, but it depends on the child's age. The duty to pay child support in Pennsylvania ends when a child reaches age 18 or graduates from high school, whichever occurs last.
When your child is both 18 years of age and has graduated from high school, you no longer have a duty to support her. This is sometimes called emancipation. If she is 17 years old when she graduates, then you can terminate the order when she turns 18. If she turns 18 before high school graduation, then her graduation date is the date child support ends.
The Domestic Relations Section, also called DRS, is the office that handles the processing, collection and administrative modification of child support orders. Each Pennsylvania county has a DRS office. To ensure that the order is terminated on time, several months prior to your child's emancipation, file a Petition for Modification of an Existing Support Order with the DRS office in the county where the order was entered. You will find the name of the county at the top of the child support order you received.
Filing the petition a few months in advance will allow time for the scheduling of a conference, if one is required, before the child support obligation ends. Filing early is also helpful because you might be ahead on payments. If DRS knows that termination of the order is coming up, it will try to make sure you are not owed money when the order ends. However, if an overpayment exists when the order is terminated, you may petition DRS for reimbursement within a year of the termination date.
Even if you do nothing, DRS monitors its files and sends out an Emancipation Inquiry before the child turns 18, asking the custodial parent to confirm the child will be turning 18 and to provide the date on which the child will graduate from high school. If the parent agrees or doesn't respond and there are no other children attached to the order, the office may administratively terminate the order when the child emancipates. If either parent disagrees or other children remain on the order, DRS may schedule a conference instead. Be aware that if there are other minor children on the order who are not yet emancipated, the support amount might not change much because of the way support is calculated.
While Pennsylvania does not impose college support on parents, parents can impose it on themselves. If parents contractually agree to a longer duty of support, the courts will enforce it. For example, if you signed a marital settlement agreement in which you agreed to support a child through college, the order will not terminate at high school graduation, but continue until the agreed upon time.
Kelly Mroz has more than 12 years of experience as an attorney in family, business and estate matters. She graduated magna cum laude from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, where she served as an associate editor for the "Journal of Law and Commerce." Mroz's work has also been published in the "Pennsylvania Family Law Quarterly."