Under Pennsylvania law, parents must support their children until the children reach the age of 18. However, a Pennsylvania couple was recently held responsible for paying psychiatric and hospital bills for treatment provided to their young adult daughter, a college student over the age of 18. The daughter suffered from cerebral palsy and was treated by a hospital and a psychiatrist for depression associated with her condition. When her bills went unpaid and mounted, the psychiatrist and the hospital sued the parents.
The Pennsylvania Superior Court held the parents responsible for paying the bills. First, the court noted that the parents had previously paid the psychiatrist and had provided him with insurance coverage information regarding their daughter. Because the parents never advised the psychiatrist of their decision to stop paying their daughter's bills, the psychiatrist was entitled to expect continued payments.
Second, and more significantly, the court noted that parents have a legal duty in Pennsylvania to support a child who has a physical or mental condition that exists at the time the child reaches 18 and that prevents the child from becoming self-supporting. Children whose physical or mental conditions limit their ability to support themselves are considered "unemancipated" and are entitled to extended support. When an unemancipated, disabled child accepts goods or services from businesses or medical providers, parents can be held directly responsible for paying those businesses or medical providers.
Just how extended this support must be, for what period of time, at what amount, and under what limitations remains unclear. What is certain is that a child who achieves his or her majority with physical or mental limitations that prevent him or her from employment is entitled to some continued parental support. A parent of an adult disabled child should be sure to stay aware of the child's dealings with creditors. If a parent pays a bill for the child, he or she should advise the creditor of whether future payments can be expected from the parent.