Pennsylvania Grandmother Seeks Child Support Payments for Custody of Murder Suspect's Daughter; West Chester Child Custody Lawyer Says Nonparent May Seek Support

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In a highly publicized murder case in Pennsylvania in which a researcher is accused of killing his wife, the victim's mother is now seeking child support from the suspect because she has custody of his child — her grandchild. West Chester child support lawyer Joshua Janis says anyone with custody of a child may seek support from the parent, even if that parent is in jail.

In a Pennsylvania case, a grandmother who has taken custody of the daughter of a man who is accused of killing the child's mother has requested child support for the child (WTAE, "Grandmother wants child support from murder suspect Robert Ferrante," Aug. 13, 2013; County of Allegheny Criminal Complaint No. 1379270). Some readers may be surprised that a grandmother may seek child support payments, but, under the law, the living parent has an obligation to financially support the child, said West Chester child custody lawyer Joshua Janis.

"Under Pennsylvania law, a person who has legal custody of a child may seek support from the living parent," Janis said. "The responsibility for child support is not limited to just the noncustodial parent after a divorce or of unmarried parents."

In the case, Robert Ferrante, a Pittsburgh researcher, is charged with murder of his wife, Pittsburgh neurologist Autumn Klein, with cyanide purchased through his lab (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Doctor who died of cyanide poisoning had no will," August 13, 2013). Ferrante is being held without bond. The couple had a six-year-old daughter, of whom Klein's mother took custody.

The grandmother is now seeking child support of the child. Janis does not represent Ms. Klein and does not argue on the merits of her case, but says a grandmother in custody of a child with a living parent does, generally, have standing to seek support from the living parent or parents.

All parents are liable for the support their unemancipated children under the age of 18 (23 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 4321). The liability does not go away if the child is not in the custody of another parent — the parent is still responsible for financial support of the child, Janis said.

Jail is a relatively common reason for a parent to no longer have custody of a child, Janis said. If a parent goes to jail and has assets that can provide for the support of his or her child, that parent may still be responsible for the financial support.

The circumstances may also arise if a grandparent, aunt, uncle or other non-parent has custody of a child because the child's parents were deemed unfit parents. The person with custody of the child can seek support. For instance, if a child is removed from her parents' custody because of abuse and a grandmother gets custody, the grandmother can seek child support payments.

"Both of the parents, if alive, must support the child, even if neither has custody," Janis said. "The person with custody can seek the assistance of a West Chester child custody lawyer in securing those payments."

To determine the amount of child support, the court looks at a parent's income. While a parent in jail may not be receiving a paycheck, the court will also include into consideration rent or income from property, royalties, annuities, IRAs, life insurance income, partnership gross income and any other kind of income the parent may be receiving.

"Parents continue to be responsible for their children, even if they don't have custody," Janis said. "While support tends to come up in the setting of a divorce, it can also be an issue whenever a parent no longer has custody of a child — no matter who has custody."

Joshua Janis, of Ciccarelli Law Offices, is a West Chester family lawyer who represents clients on a variety of matters, including child support, child custody and divorce.

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Lee Ciccarelli
@PennFamilyLaw
since: 02/2013
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Chester County Divorce and Family Law Attorneys
since: 03/2011
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