New Jersey or Pennsylvania Child Support: Which Law Applies?
In the recently decided case of Flynn v. Flynn, a New Jersey appeals court was faced with whether to apply New Jersey or Pennsylvania child support law regarding a parent’s obligation to an eighteen-year-old full-time college student. Although Flynn was fact-specific due to the parties’ prior legal entanglements, the decision explores the substantial differences between Pennsylvania and New Jersey with respect to child support.
Broadly stated, under Pennsylvania law a parent’s obligation to pay child support terminates when the child graduates from high school or reaches eighteen, whichever last occurs. Although New Jersey law contains a presumption of a child’s emancipation akin to Pennsylvania law, no automatic termination date exists.
In fact, if the child is a full-time college student, he or she remains legally unemancipated until college graduation. It was on this distinction that Flynn rested since while child support had been initially determined in connection with the parties’ divorce in Pennsylvania, both parties and the child subsequently moved to New Jersey which registered their divorce decree as agreed.
Years later, the issue arose as to whether or not child support would continue while the parties’ son was attending college on a full-time basis under New Jersey law or fully terminate under Pennsylvania law. Since New Jersey law also holds that divorced parents are responsible for their children’s college education expenses (in addition to child support payable by the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent), the stakes were high in terms of which law to apply.
Initially, the trial judge determined that child support should continue, in accordance with New Jersey law, a ruling which was promptly appealed. In a well-reasoned decision, the appellate court reversed and held that since child support had originally been determined in Pennsylvania, New Jersey law did not apply.
The case contains an intriguing question evolving from the fact that the parties had already participated in a number of child support hearings in New Jersey Since it had not been raised on appeal, the appellate court sidestepped the issue of whether they were thus bound by New Jersey law and elected to base their decision on the duration, not the amount, of child support.
Since no two cases are alike, any such matter would warrant analysis by a skilled family law attorney before proceeding.