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

June 14, 2024

Obermayer’s interdisciplinary legal team, consisting of Hillary Moonay – co-chair of Obermayer’s Family Law department – family law attorney, Amanda Frett, Mathieu Shapiro – Obermayer’s Managing  Partner,  and appellate litigator Melissa Blanco, successfully represented Philip Jaurigue. Jaurigue had sought partial physical custody of a child he helped raise after the child’s mother passed away. Although he was granted physical custodial time, the child’s biological father, Mr. Caldwell, retained sole legal and primary physical custody. Caldwell later filed for child support against Jaurigue. 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.

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.

The Supreme Court’s decision clarified that child support obligations are linked to legal custody, not merely physical custodial time. This ruling aims to reduce litigation and provide uniformity across Pennsylvania, ensuring stability and continuity in children’s lives by allowing third parties to maintain important relationships without the burden of child support.

“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.”

Hillary further explained that this decision would enable many third parties to stay an essential and influential part of a child’s development without the worry of a child support obligation.

 “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,” said Hillary.

Read the full release, published on MyChesCo here.