Right to Child Support Belongs to the Child in New Jersey and PA

Parties to a divorce in New Jersey must be aware that they cannot negotiate away the right to child support.  The State of New Jersey views child support as the right and property of the child.  The Appellate Division in Colca v. Anson, 413 N.J. Super. 405 (App. Div. 2010), recently held that a custodial parent cannot waive child support because the child support belongs to the child.  Furthermore, the child support obligation continues until the child is emancipated, which in New Jersey may continue well beyond high school if the child proceeds to college.  The Court also ruled that a trial court can award child support even after it previously denied support, and even when the party seeking support failed to prove changed circumstances.

In Pennsylvania the law provides that while a parent can choose not to demand child support, the parent cannot completely waive the right to demand support in the future.  The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has stated that “[p]arties to a divorce action may bargain between themselves and structure their agreement as best serves their interests, . . . They have no power, however, to bargain away the rights of their children, . . . Their right to bargain for themselves is their own business. They cannot in that process set a standard that will leave their children short. Their bargain may be eminently fair, give all that the children might require and be enforceable because it is fair. When it gives less than required or less than can be given to provide for the best interest of the children, it falls under the jurisdiction of the court’s wide and necessary powers to provide for that best interest. . . . [The parties bargain] is at best advisory to the court and swings on the tides of the necessity that the children be provided.”

The mandatory duration of child support in Pennsylvania continues only until the child reaches the age of 18 or graduates from high school whichever is later.  The parties may contract to share college expenses but any support agreement that continues through college is entirely voluntary.