Dependent on Child Support in Dependency
It is widely known that it is public policy is to ensure children receive the support they need from their parents. In the vast majority of cases, a child support obligation terminates when a child reaches the age of majority (age 18) or graduates from high school, whichever is later, however, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, in the recent matter of Somerset County Children and Youth Services v. H.B.R., 155 A.3d 627 (Pa. Super. 2017), has addressed the atypical situation when a child reaches the age of majority yet still remains subject to a dependency order.
In H.B.R. the child-at-issue was put into placement following a dependency action. Consequent to the same, Children and Youth Services (CYS) filed a complaint for child support against the child’s father and, accordingly, an order for child support was entered. A little over two years after the child support order was entered, the father filed a petition to modify the child support order, requesting termination of the same, because the child, having reached the age of majority and graduated from high school, was emancipated. Despite reaching the age of majority and graduating from high school, the child voluntarily chose to remain in the custody of CYS until age 21, which is his right to do.
After the child support modification conference, the trial court entered an order terminating the child support order as the child is emancipated due to reaching the age of majority and graduating from high school. In response, CYS demanded a hearing contesting the termination of the child support order because, although having reached the age of majority and graduating from high school, the child continued to be dependent and in the custody of CYS and, therefore, financially subsidized by CYS. After the hearing mentioned above, the trial court affirmed the order mentioned above flowing from the conference terminating the support order. As a result, CYS appealed the matter to Pennsylvania Superior Court.
On appeal, CYS essentially argued that as it must still outlay money for the support of the child, due to his remaining dependent, the father should contribute to the same through a child support order. Furthermore, CYS claimed that the child support process may be the only mechanism available to it to seek recoupment of its costs for the emancipated child.
In light of the above, the court ruled that CYS failed to convince it that the trial court’s order, described above, is “manifestly unreasonable or based on bias, ill will, prejudice and partiality.” Instead, the Superior Court noted, the trial court’s order is precisely consistent with applicable law, especially considering that the child is emancipated and capable of self-support. Therefore, the father has no legal obligation to continue paying child support.
As part of its analysis, the court distinguished this case from the matter of Erie County Office of Juvenile Probation v. Schroeck, 721 A.2d 799 (Pa. Super. 1998). In Schroeck, the parent was obliged to pay the cost of care for the child-at-issue in that case even though the child was over 18 years old and graduated from high school and therefore emancipated. Despite meeting the two primary factors for emancipation, the child was also adjudicated delinquent and placed in a court-ordered residential program. In ordering support for this child, the court’s reasoning in Schroeck was that, due to being adjudicated delinquent and in a residential program, the child was rendered effectively unemployable and incapable of self-support. By contrast, the Superior Court noted, the child in H.B.R. has no such limitations which would trigger a support obligation. The court pointed out that his decision to remain in the custody of CYS is not mandatory and does not render the child incapable of self-support.
Ultimately, Superior Court affirmed the termination of the father’s child support obligation. The court observed that CYS may have other avenues to pursue under 62 Pa.C.S. Section 704.1 and an action to seek reimbursement due to the child being able to engage in self-support, but elected not to provide any guidance as it does not issue advisory opinions.