Failure to Launch: How Long Do I Have to Pay Child Support?

April 11, 2018
Holly S. Filius

I think Millennials get a bad rap these days. I recently heard a gentleman who was likely in his late 50’s, early 60’s suggest that Millennials are self-absorbed, lazy, lacked generosity, and were not community-minded. I spoke to this gentleman a little while after his comment telling him that I think his perception was skewed. While it may be true that Millennials are not likely to work for the same company for 30 years, may not want to sit on non-profit boards, and are happy not owning real estate, those characteristics do not necessarily translate into the adjectives he used to describe a generation. Instead, he needs to look outside of his comfort zone and realize that Millennials are self-motivated and loyal, they just may not want to spend their entire career at one company and instead use their time and talent to do good work for multiple entities. They are not necessarily fiscally imprudent just because they do not want to own real estate. Instead, they do not want the ties that bind one to real estate, rather they want the freedom to travel to different parts of the country or the world to experience new things and make their mark. Millennials tend to be community-minded and extremely generous but they may not want to sit on a non-profit board that meets every month and plan a golf outing. Instead, they write a check during the Extraordinary Give or donate to a GoFundMe account.

You are probably wondering what all of these comments on Millennials have to do with your obligation to pay child support. The tie-in is that many Millennials are perceived to have “failed to launch” because they have returned to their parents’ home to reside after college rather than going into the workforce and living independently. However, that does not make them bad people, it just makes them appear more dependent than the greatest generation. So, does this  lengthen the amount of time a parent has to pay child support for their child? In Pennsylvania, parents are obligated to pay child support for their child until she turns 18 or graduates from high school, whichever occurs later. However, that time period can be different depending on other factors like an earlier emancipation date, a child with special needs which extends payment to at least 21, and agreements to pay child support for a child past his 18th birthday or graduation from high school.

The Lancaster County Domestic Relations Office sends an Emancipation Inquiry to the parents of a child about to turn 18 to determine that child’s status. That form requests information regarding when the child will graduate from high school and if there are any extenuating factors that would require support to be paid beyond a child’s 18th birthday or high school graduation.

A child can be considered to be emancipated prior to turning 18 years of age or graduating from high school under certain circumstances. Those circumstances could include, but are not limited to, working full-time and not attending high school and/or a program equivalent to high school, living outside of a parent’s home independently, or living with a significant other without pursuing any type of education. If a child is considered to be emancipated prior to his 18th birthday or graduating from high school, then a parent’s obligation for payment of child support can terminate at the time of emancipation.

If a child has specific special needs that require education beyond his 18th birthday and the traditional number of years to complete an educational program (kindergarten plus 12 years), then child support would extend past that child’s 18th birthday and traditional graduation date. In many cases, parents of children with significant special needs will pay child support until the child’s 21st birthday. However, in those cases, when a child has significant special needs, often Social Security benefits are being paid and the child support obligation is less than what a parent of a child without special needs would pay because of consideration of the Social Security benefits.

While some Millennials may have completed high school, completed college, and are living in your ex-spouse’s basement, that perceived “failure to launch” does not equate to additional years of child support. So if you are counting, look to the school calendar for the graduation date, consider the date of your child’s 18th birthday and you will know when child support will end.

To all those Millenials who sometimes get a lot of grief from my generation and others, be patient with us as we gain a better understanding of your current priorities and your vision for the future.  Trust me, our parents were not always happy with our choices.

Holly Filius is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She received her law degree from Widener University School of Law and practices in a variety of areas, including Family Law.