In Pennsylvania, as in most states, a parent has the legal obligation to provide support for a minor child, with the requirement terminating on the child’s 18th birthday. There are instances, however, when that responsibility may cease before the child becomes 18.
Unlike many other jurisdictions, Pennsylvania does not have a statute that identifies the circumstances under which a minor will become emancipated. Instead, the courts have held that the determination of whether or not a minor is emancipated is an issue of fact, to be evaluated and decided based a number of criteria, including:
- The extent to which the child is living on her or her own
- Whether or not the child is dependent on a parent for support
- The extent to which the child relies on parents to make decisions regarding employment, education, health or other key factors
- The age of the child seeking emancipation or whom a parent seeks to establish as emancipated—the younger the minor, the less likely the court will find the child to be emancipated
If the court concludes, based on the facts, that the child is emancipated, the court may rule that the parents no longer have any legal responsibility to provide for the child’s welfare.
It’s important to understand, though, that a determination of emancipation is not necessarily permanent. If a minor is determined to be emancipated, but circumstances change, such that the minor is no longer able to either provide for his or her own needs, or make his or her own decisions, the court may invalidate the emancipation and order parents to provide support.