Obermayer Legal Team Wins PA Supreme Court Case Establishing New Rules on 3rd Party Child Support

Obermayer

HARRISBURG, PA — On May 31, 2024, in Caldwell v. Jaurigue, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued a landmark decision that establishes a bright line rule in third party child support matters. The decision sets a significant precedent clarifying the child support responsibilities of third parties who have custodial rights to a child. The Supreme Court unanimously held that only third parties who have sole or shared legal custody shall be responsible for paying child support.

Obermayer’s interdisciplinary legal team, consisting of Hillary Moonay – co-chair of Obermayer’s Family Law department – family law attorney, Amanda Frett, and appellate litigators, Mathieu Shapiro and Melissa Blanco, represented Philip Jaurigue who initially sought partial physical custody of the minor child that he helped raise with her mother for the first six years of her life.  After the child’s mother died in 2019, she went to live primarily with her biological father – Mr. Caldwell.  Wanting to maintain a regular, stable relationship with the child he had grown to love, Mr. Jaurigue filed a custody action in Bucks County seeking only partial physical custody of the child.  After several hearings, Mr. Jaurigue was granted physical custodial time with the child, but Caldwell retained sole legal custody and primary physical custody.

Shortly after the custody decision, Mr. Caldwell filed for child support against Mr. Jaurigue.  Mr. Jaurigue objected, citing both Pennsylvania statutes and case law which limited child support responsibilities to a “parent” of a child.  The trial court agreed with Mr. Jaurigue and dismissed Mr. Caldwell’s child support complaint.  Mr. Caldwell then appealed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, who reversed the Trial Court decision focusing primarily on the amount of physical custodial time that Mr. Jaurigue had with the child.  Mr. Jaurigue then filed a Petition for Allowance of Appeal to the Supreme Court, which granted review on the issue of whether prior case law created child support obligations in third parties who seek and obtain custody rights less than those held by a biological parent.

As stated above, the Supreme Court issued its decision, which now ties child support responsibility to only those persons who have some form of legal custody of a child.  This ensures that such persons will be involved in making major decisions in a child’s life such as those related to education, medical care, and religious upbringing.  “We are very pleased with the Court’s unanimous decision,” said Shapiro. “With such clear-cut criteria, both courts and litigants will understand the child support responsibilities of third parties once a custody order is in place.  This ruling will, therefore, help reduce litigation and allow for uniformity across the Commonwealth.”

“For many third parties, this decision allows them to remain an important and critical part of a child’s development, without the concern of a child support obligation,” further explained Moonay. “Pennsylvania family law courts have long emphasized the importance of stability and continuity in the lives of children.  This decision reinforces the importance of the stability and continuity that children enjoy from non-biological parents, like our client, who voluntarily seek to maintain these relationships solely out of their unconditional love and devotion to these children.”

For more information on the case, see the Opinion here (Concurring Opinion here).

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