Though specifics vary from case to case, in Pennsylvania most child support court orders require payments until the child reaches 18 years of age. If all of the payments are made, the case is typically closed. Where there is back support owed, however, the custodial parent may be able to collect it even after the child turns 18.
Unpaid child support debt does not simply vanish on the child's 18th birthday. Rather, late payments are in arrears, and payments must continue until the balance has been paid in full. Law enforcement agencies have the power to revoke or withhold passports and driver's licenses from those who owe child support. Officials can garnish wages, lien real or personal property or seize tax refund checks. Delinquent parents may be sentenced to time in jail for not making support payments.
Some courts may make changes to a support order after the child turns 18 because the obligations of the custodial parent are theoretically lessened at that time. Support orders are also dismissed in some cases where the child is emancipated. The rulings in any particular case are dependent on its specific facts. The general rule, though, is that arrears must be paid before the support order is dismissed.
In a case where child support is owed and the child is over the age of 18, it is important to speak to an attorney to ensure rights are not lost by the tolling of a statute of limitations, as parents who are owed past-due child support may have a specified amount of time to enforce their rights. An attorney with experience in family law may be able to help by bringing an action in court to collect the amounts that are in arrears.