Pennsylvania Child Support Basics

20130404-PENNSYLVANIA STATE 4

In Pennsylvania, child support is based on statewide guidelines which were established by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and are periodically reviewed. The guidelines are intended to reflect recent economic data about the cost of raising children and to imitate the standard of living the child would experience in an intact family. Pennsylvania uses and “Income Shares” model of calculating child support so that the guideline amount will be based upon the combined net income of both parents. The guidelines in Pennsylvania were last amended in 2013.

There are several steps to determining child support:

  1. Gross Income: The first step to determining child support is to determine each parent’s gross income.
    1. For many people, gross income consists primarily of earned wages from an employer. To determine what someone’s gross wages were during the year, it is necessary to look at tax returns, W-2s, year-end pay stubs and employment contracts.
    2. If a parent is self-employed, the determination of gross income can be more complicated; however, again a tax return may be a useful place to start as would a profit and loss statement.
    3. A parent may also have income such as interest earned, rents received, royalties, retirement payments, alimony, Social Security, income received from a trust, dividends received from an investment and other entitlements. These types of income can also be determined by carefully reviewing a parent’s tax return, 1099s and K-1 forms.
    4. If a parent is unemployed at the time support is being calculated, they may be assessed an earning capacity based upon factors including, but not limited to, their age, education, training, health, work experience, earnings history, child care responsibilities and efforts to obtain employment.
  1. Net Income: The second step to determining child support is to determine a parent’s net income. Net income for purposes of child support may be different than the net income shown on a pay stub or tax return. The only reductions to gross income which are considered for child support purposes are:
    1. federal, state, and local income taxes;
    2. unemployment compensation taxes and Local Services Taxes (LST);
    3. F.I.C.A. payments (Social Security, Medicare and Self-Employment taxes) and non-voluntary retirement payments;
    4. mandatory union dues; and
    5. alimony paid to the other party.
  1. Guidelines: Once the net incomes of both parties are calculated, they are combined and the guidelines are applied. For those parents who have a combined net monthly income of $30,000 or less, the guidelines as set forth in Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 1910.16-3 apply. For those parents who have a combined monthly net income of over $30,000, there are separate guidelines set forth in Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 1910.16-3.1. The guideline amount of support is also reduced for payor parents who have 40% or more physical custody of a child.
  1. Adjustments to the Guidelines: Once the presumed guidelines amount is determined, the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure provide that the guidelines may be adjusted to allocate certain additional expenses between the parents based upon their share of the combined net income available for support, including:
    1. Childcare Expenses;
    2. Healthcare Premiums;
    3. Unreimbursed Medical Expenses;
    4. Private School;
    5. Summer Camp; and
    6. Mortgage Payments (including real estate taxes and homeowner’s insurance).
  1. Deviation from the Guidelines: Finally, it is necessary to review whether there is any reason to deviate from the guidelines. Common reasons to argue for a deviation from the guidelines include, but are not limited to:
    1. Whether a parent has enough money left over each month to meet their own basic needs (the Pennsylvania Supreme Court presumes that the parents should have a “Self Support Reserve” of $931 per month);
    2. unusual needs and unusual fixed obligations;
    3. other support obligations of the parties;
    4. other income in the household;
    5. ages of the children;
    6. the relative assets and liabilities of the parties;
    7. medical expenses not covered by insurance; and
    8. standard of living of the parties and their children.
  1. Collecting Support: Most child support in Pennsylvania is collected via wage attachment. The recipient spouse then has the ability to elect to receive their support on an EPPI Card (which is card that can be used like a Debit Card) or via direct deposit.
  1. Modifying Support: Child support in Pennsylvania is always modifiable upon any change in circumstances including, but not limited to, an increase/decrease in income, a change in the guidelines, or a change in the needs of a child.
  1. Terminating Support: Child support in Pennsylvania terminates at the time a child reaches the age of eighteen (18) or graduates from high school, whichever is later, unless the child has special needs which may be a basis for continuing support past that point.
  1. Enforcing Support: The Domestic Relations Section has many methods of enforcing its support orders, including, but not limited to:
    1. increasing the amount of monthly support payments for payment of the overdue support at a rate to be determined by the court;
    2. withholding or seizing periodic or lump sum payments of income from a government agency, including unemployment compensation, social security, retirement or disability benefits and any other benefits; withholding or seizing periodic or lump sum payments of income from insurance carriers or privately-insured employers, including workers’ compensation benefits;
    3. withholding or seizing judgments or settlements; and withholding or seizing public and private retirement funds in pay status;
    4. imposing liens on real property;
    5. attaching and seizing assets of the obligor held in financial institutions;
    6. reducing and executing a judgment against the obligor;
    7. initiating contempt proceedings;
    8. reporting the amount of overdue support to consumer reporting agencies in the manner prescribed by 23 Pa.C.S. §  4303;
    9. when the obligor owes overdue support in an amount of three months or more, suspending occupational, commercial/driver’s and recreational licenses; and
    10. sending the obligor to jail until such time as the support obligation is satisfied.

Child support in Pennsylvania is complicated and fact specific. It is important to discuss the specific details of your case with a lawyer.

By: Kelley M. FazziniKelley Menzano

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