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In all states, both parents are expected to financially support their children. Generally, child support ends when a child turns 18 or 19 depending on the state, but in our neighboring state, New York, noncustodial parents have to pay child support until their child reaches the age of 21.

In Pennsylvania, noncustodial parents have to pay child support until their child turns 18, or graduates high school, whichever happens later. But it’s no secret that a lot of noncustodial parents fail to keep up with their payments or they voluntarily stop paying child support when their ex won’t let them see their kids, when they lose their job, or when they become too disabled to work, but is this practice condoned by the courts and local child support agencies?

Child Support Has to Be Paid

Contrary to popular belief, noncustodial parents in Pennsylvania (and all other states) are required to pay child support no matter what. A noncustodial parent’s obligation to pay child support does not end if they are unemployed, or if they become disabled, terminally ill, or if they become incarcerated in jail or prison.

There is only one exception and that is the individual’s parental rights are terminated, either voluntarily or involuntarily. Usually, the only way someone’s parental rights are terminated voluntarily is if both biological parents agree and the other parent’s husband or wife wants to adopt their stepchild.

A court can terminate someone’s parental rights (also known as an involuntary termination) when there has been severe child abuse, abandonment, severe neglect, child sexual abuse, or the child was conceived out of rape or incest. To learn more about the law on involuntary termination of parental rights, click here.

What if I Can’t Afford Child Support?

Unless parental rights have been terminated, a noncustodial parent is legally required to pay child support until their child turns 18 or graduates high school, whichever happens later. If a parent fails to pay child support, he or she will be subject to a variety of enforcement tools from the local child support agency. Child support cannot be discharged or reduced in bankruptcy and the parent will be liable for the debt until it is paid off in full, even if the parent takes decades to pay it off.

Next: Does Child Support Come Out of SSI & SSDI?

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