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Six Most Important Child Support Cases In Pennsylvania Since 2005

Posted in Child Support on 15th May 2011

Six Most Important Child Support Cases In Pennsylvania Since 2005

For several years, I have been privileged to teach lawyers about the latest developments in child support as one of the hosts of Family Law Update, a satellite broadcast presentation sponsored by the Pennsyvlania Bar Institute. Since I joined the panel in 2005, several important decisions have influenced the direction of Pennsylvania child support law. Here is my summary of the six most important cases (and one change in the law itself) since 2005:

#6 – Reinert v. Reinert, 926 A.2d 539 (Pa.Super.2007). The Superior Court in this case affirmed the continuing viability of the “nurturing parent doctrine,” a policy in which the courts may excuse the mother of a young child from working to contribute toward the support of the child. Prior to this decision, it was established that a mother may refrain from working even to raise the child of a subsequent relationship. Yet, in Reinert, the Superior Court took the policy to its extreme. The Court terminated the support obligation of a mother who did not have custody of her eldest child when she gave birth to twins by a subsequent relationship and elected to stay at home to raise them.

#5 – Murphy v. McDermott, 2009 WL 2365992 (2009). The question of whether a parent must pay private school tuition may be raised in child support proceedings, but it is also a legal custody issue. The problem is: the legal standards to answer that question are different in support and custody proceedings. The Murphy case demonstrates how important “status quo” can be, compelling a parent to pay tuition even if he or she objected at the time when the child was enrolled in private or parochial school. The lesson: parents must get involved in the choice of schooling before the question of paying comes up.

#4 – Berry v. Berry, 2006 Pa.Super. 98 (2006). When child support becomes an issue between divorcing parents, the courts must decide whether certain income sources – such as pensions, rental properties and businesses – should be considered as marital property or income for support purposes. Generally, they cannot be both. In Berry, the Superior Court held that severance pay would be counted as marital property if acquired before separation or income if acquired after separation.

#3 – Estate of Johnson, 970 A.2d 433 (Pa.Super.2009). While this decision might be limited to its unique factual circumstances, the Superior Court certainly affected settlement practice by holding the estate of a deceased parent responsible for the payment of child support. The deceased parent had entered into a marital settlement agreement with his ex-wife, promising to pay child support until the youngest child was 18 years of age. The agreement did not specify whether the obligation would terminate upon the death of a parent, so