Pennsylvania Supreme Court Establishes Landmark Rule on Third-Party Child Support in Caldwell v. Jaurigue

June 17, 2024 | By Hillary J. Moonay

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

What were the 3rd party support rules before Caldwell v. Jaurigue?

Prior to the Jaurigue decision, Pennsylvania had long prohibited the imposition of child support obligations on third parties, reasoning that such obligations discourage those parties from remaining involved in a child’s life. However, in 2015, three out of a five-justice court carved a narrow exception to the general prohibition, holding that a third party who seeks “all the rights of parenthood” over a child may be required to pay child support. Since then, the Pennsylvania Superior Court has expanded A.S. to require third parties to pay support when they seek to maintain almost any degree of contact with the child, leading to confusion and uncertainty in the Commonwealth.

Caldwell v. Jaurigue

In this case, we 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 her mother died in 2019, the minor child went to live primarily with Mr. Caldwell, her father. 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 Mr. 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 which reversed the Trial Court decision focusing primarily on the amount of physical custodial time that Mr. Jaurigue had with the child. Mr. Jaurigue filed a Petition for Allowance of Appeal to the Supreme Court which granted a review of the following: “Does the Court’s holding in A.S. v. I.S., 130 A.3d 763 (Pa. 2015), extend beyond the facts of that case and create child support obligations in third parties who seek and obtain custody rights less than those held by a biological parent?” Caldwell v. Jaurigue, 294 A.2d 306 (Pa. Mar. 21, 2023).

The impact of Caldwell v. Jaurigue on support cases going forward

Now that the Supreme Court has issued a decision tying 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. 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, like Mr. Jaurigue, this decision allows them to remain an important and critical part of a child’s development, without the concern of a child support obligation. Pennsylvania has 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 nonparents, like Mr. Jaurigue, who voluntarily seek to maintain these relationships solely out of their unconditional love and devotion to these children.

The information contained in this publication should not be construed as legal advice, is not a substitute for legal counsel, and should not be relied on as such. For legal advice or answers to specific questions, please contact one of our attorneys.

About the Authors

Hillary J. Moonay


Doylestown Divorce Attorney Hillary co-chairs Obermayer’s Family Law Group. She focuses her practice exclusively in the area of family law, where she handles all phases of the negotiation and litigation of domestic...

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