Understanding the basics of child support in PA

In a Pennsylvania divorce, child support is based off of both parents’ income, as well as a host of other considerations made with the child’s best interest in mind.

When a married couple chooses to terminate their marriage, everyone in the family experiences a change in the lifestyle that they had become accustomed to. This can be especially hard for children, as they may have to adjust to a new living environment and school along with the separation of their parents. Furthermore, there may be a significant change in finances both during the divorce process as well as after the divorce is finalized.

In Pennsylvania, once the parents have separated and are living in separate residences, the parent who has fewer overnights with the child can be ordered to pay child support as a way to bridge the financial gap that most often occurs when the parties separate and divorce. Even in cases where the parents share equal custody of the children, the higher-earning parent can still be ordered to pay child support to the lower-earning parent.

Child support model

In calculating the amount of child support that is owed to one parent, Pennsylvania has created a child support guideline that determines how much of an intact family's income is used to support the number of children in the family. They use this number to determine how much child support the child or children should receive once the parents separate. The calculation determines what percentage of the parents' combined income each parent earns. The non-custodial parent then pays his or her calculated percentage of the child support obligation. For example, if the Mother earns 60% of both parties' combined incomes, and the Father has primary custody of the child, then the Mother will pay 60% of the guideline's determination of the child's support needs. The guidelines are created based on the belief that children are entitled to the same amount of financial support that they would have had if their parents had remained married.

Setting the child support amount

There are several factors that are considered in calculating the parents' child support obligation. Some of these factors are:

  • Each party's net monthly income
  • How much time the child(ren) spends with each parent
  • Whether there are any child care or private school expenses incurred
  • Which parent provides health insurance coverage for the child(ren)
  • How many children there are
  • In some instances, the mortgage payments for the marital residence

Modifications

Over time, the parents may experience certain life changes that could affect either the ability to pay child support each month, or the need to receive more or less child support each month. When a life change occurs, either parent may request a modification of the support obligation. In that case, the support obligation may be modified to reflect parents' change of income, custody schedule, medical coverage and/or child care expenses. If one parent becomes incarcerated, disabled, seriously injured or dies, the child support may be adjusted as well.

Help through the divorce process

People who are going through a divorce must deal with many financial and emotional changes. Not only can it be hard to make critical decisions during this difficult and often turbulent time, but you may not be aware of all of your legal options when it comes to child support. A Pennsylvania family law attorney may be able to answer your questions and help you navigate the best outcome for you and your family.