Can An Adult Child Sue for Back Child Support in Pennsylvania?


Child support remains both a controversial and somewhat misunderstood subject. And as Philadelphia divorce lawyers, we hear a lot of questions about it, especially since a great deal of child support goes unpaid in our state.

One question we sometimes get comes from an adult child, say, a college student, or a young person just starting out. They know one of their parents owes back child support and they want to know if they can collect the money for themselves.

If this describes your situation, this is what you need to know.

Child support is typically owed to the party who raises the child, not directly to the child.

According to recent estimates, the cost of raising a child from birth to age 17 is $233,610. If you’ve never been a parent the figure seems insane, but these costs encompass a lot more than food, shelter, and clothing.

Medical care. School fees. Books. Toys. Unexpected school trips. School supplies. Insurance. Dental care. Eye care. Personal supplies. Furniture and fixtures for a child’s room. Extracurriculars the child may participate in, complete with more dues and supplies.

It all adds up fast.

Clothing isn’t to be overlooked. An adult who takes good care of clothes can get away with purchasing one new outfit a year. Kids outgrow clothes so fast they commonly need brand new wardrobes by the time school starts, complete with shoes.

The legal theory behind child support is this: both parents are responsible for contributing to this amount. But it’s an amount the parents are expected to spend, not that children are expected to receive. And in cases where the child goes into foster care or ends up a ward of the state, it may be the state, not either parent, who is legally entitled to receive those funds.

Child support that is in arrears is still owed after the child turns 18.

While normal child support ends when the child turns 18, back child support does not. The person who raised the child paid to do so. The other parent still owes the money.

This does not mean an 18-year old child can usually turn around and claim the funds. They didn’t pay the money to raise themselves!

There is one common exception to this rule.

If you are an adult child whose custodial parent has died and you have inherited the estate or are the executor of the estate you may be in a position to collect this back child support. You will still probably need extensive legal help to make this happen, but you would now be in a position to make an argument for claiming the asset, just as you might be inheriting your parent’s home, bank accounts, or car.

If this describes your situation you will need a qualified attorney to help you pursue these funds. Of course, it might be worthwhile to make sure the amount is really collectible before going after it.

Got questions about child support?

We’ve written a lot of helpful blog posts on the subject. Here are a few to check out:

Don’t see the answer to your question here? Don’t hesitate to get help. Contact our offices today to schedule a consultation.

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