Successful PA Superior Court Case Win: How Emancipation Impacts Child Support
On May 26, Gross McGinley’s family law team received a favorable judgment to an appeal at the Pennsylvania Superior Court level. In this recent case, Sharon L. Buchanan vs. Harry W. Buchanan IV, child support was challenged in relation to emancipation, having the ability to set a new precedent.
What is emancipation?
In Pennsylvania, emancipation in terms of child support typically means that when a child reaches age 18 or graduates high school, whichever happens later, support ceases unless the young adult cannot be self-supporting.
As noted in the Buchanan case, the”issue of a child’s ‘[e]mancipation is a question of fact to be determined by the circumstances presented in each case.’… [T]he test is whether the child is physically and mentally able to engage in profitable employment and whether employment is available to that child at a supporting wage.” Sometimes a child is emancipated prior to turning 18 or graduating high school.
How does emancipation impact child support?
The primary reason to institute child support is provide for the best interests of a child in a reasonable manner. In most cases, child support and emancipation are aligned. Yet, as referenced in the Buchanan case, “pursuant to 23 Pa.C.S. § 4321(3), a parent may be required to support a child who, upon reaching the age of majority, has a mental or physical condition that prevents the child from being self-supporting.”
If one parent seeks child support from another parent for a child past traditional emancipation, they have the burden of proof to showcase these conditions – “[T]he test is whether the child is physically and mentally able to engage in profitable employment and whether employment is available to that child at a supporting wage,” as per Hanson vs. Hanson, 425 Pa. Superior Ct. 508 (1993).
Possible precedent set in Buchanan vs. Buchanan
In the Buchanan case, Gross McGinley defended father Harry Buchanan, as his ex-wife Sharon sought extended support for their emancipated 19-year-old daughter, who suffered from a medical condition. Gross McGinley won the case on behalf of Mr. Buchanan, but Mrs. Buchanan appealed the case and filed a PA Superior Court appeal.
To win the appeal, Mrs. Buchanan would need to show how their daughter, who graduated as valedictorian of her high school class and went on to succeed in college, live independently in a dorm and earn high marks in her classes, was not able to be self-supportive.
A medical deposition about the daughter’s medical condition completed by Attorney Kellie Rahl-Heffner for the initial two-day trial was re-reviewed in the PA Superior Court. When this medical information was compared with past cases, it did not hold up as a valid reason for Mr. Buchanan to continue his support. Additionally, Mrs. Buchanan did not rebut that their 19-year-old daughter was emancipated, but yet, still sought child support, also a departure from past precedent.
Had Mrs. Buchanan’s appeal been successful, the door would have been open for future appellants to successfully garner continued child support for emancipated children with physical or mental conditions, even though these conditions did not impact the ability to be self-supportive.
Congratulations to Gross McGinley’s family law team on their win at the PA Superior Court level. In absence of a jury trial, the judge made its ruling based on a brief written by Allen Tullar, which was based on documentation completed by Kellie Rahl-Heffner from the trial hearing.