How Do You Know If You Are Paying or Receiving the Right Amount of Child Support?

In Pennsylvania, both parents are legally obligated to financially support their child until he or she is 18 years of age and has graduated from high school, whichever is later. If the parents are separated or divorced, the parent who has primary physical custody of the minor child (i.e. the parent with whom the child resides most of the time) has the right to collect child support from the non-custodial parent. If the non-custodial parent has physical custody of the child between 40% and 49% of the time, there is typically a reduction in the child support amount. If the parties equally share physical custody of the child, the parent who earns more income or has a higher earning capacity typically owes child support to the other party.

A child support order is based on the Pennsylvania Child Support Guidelines. The first step in calculating child support is to determine each parent's net income for purposes of child support, which may differ from the parent's take-home pay. The only deductions from gross income permitted for child support purposes are those which are mandatory, including but not limited to income taxes, mandatory retirement contributions and union dues. Any voluntary deductions, such as contributions to a 401(k) plan, are not permitted deductions for child support purposes.

Net income is typically based on the last six (6) months of income. However, there may be reasons that a parent's net income within the six-month timeframe should not be used for purposes of calculating child support. If a parent typically receives a bonus in a month that is not included in that six-month timeframe, the bonus may be included in net income. Or a parent may be laid-off each year for a certain period of time, during which time he or she receives unemployment compensation. Using a combination of the earned income and unemployment compensation may be a more accurate picture of the parent's financial situation. If one parent believes that the net income of the other parent does not accurately reflect the other parent's earning capacity, an argument can be made that the parent should be imputed an earning capacity for child support purposes.

Once the parties' net incomes or earning capacities are determined, they are entered into a formula, which results in each parent's financial responsibility for the child. The non-custodial parent must pay to the custodial parent his share as determined by the formula, which is considered base child support.

In addition to base child support, out-of-pocket medical expenses and child care expenses are awarded based on the parents' respective shares of their combined net incomes (or earning capacities). The non-custodial parent is typically required to pay his or her share of these expenses to the custodial parent. Typically, the recipient of the child support is responsible for the first $250 of medical expenses on an annual basis for each dependent under the order.

Once a support order has been entered, it is subject to modification by the court at the request of either parent until the child is 18 years of age and has graduated from high school, whichever is later.

Support arrears or "back support" may accumulate for a couple of reasons. First, since a support order will be effective retroactively to the filing date, and there are typically several weeks between the filing date and the conference date, arrears will accumulate. In addition, arrears will accumulate in the event the parent fails to make payments as ordered. Support arrears will be included in the child support order, so that they are paid down over the course of several months until satisfied in full.

The information provided is intended to be a broad overview of child support in Pennsylvania. Each family situation presents its own set of facts. If you are interested in discussing your situation with a knowledgeable attorney who has years of experience representing clients in child support and other family law proceedings, please feel free to contact me at 610-323-7464.