Under Pennsylvania law, child support is payable until a child reaches eighteen years old or graduates from high school, whichever occurs later. However, a duty of support may continue beyond the age of eighteen, if a child is unable to support himself or herself because of a physical or mental disability. The amount of child support that is payable in a case is based upon the monthly after tax incomes or earning capacities of the child's parents.
THE CALCULATION OF INCOME IN A SUPPORT CASE
Income for Pennsylvania support purposes includes such things as wages, salaries, overtime pay, commissions, bonuses, interest, rental income, retirement income, Social Security retirement or disability payments, workers compensation, unemployment compensation, income from an interest in a business, entitlements to lump sum awards such as lottery winnings and any other sources of income. If a person does not have any income, but is capable of working, the parent may be assessed with an earning capacity. Rather than using gross or before tax income, the Pennsylvania courts use the monthly net, or after tax, incomes of each parent. Net income for support purposes is oftentimes different than the amount of money received in a parent's paycheck or what is listed on the parent's tax returns. For Pennsylvania support purposes, net income is defined as gross income minus actual federal, state, and local income taxes, union dues, non-voluntary retirement payments, F.I.C.A. payments, and alimony payments paid to the other party.
INCOME FOR SELF-EMPLOYED INDIVIDUALS
For self-employed persons, determining the amount of income available for support purposes can be difficult in certain cases. Self-employed persons may not accurately report all of their income on tax returns or may take as deductions certain expenses that are actually personal expenses. For support purposes, certain expenses that are deductible for tax purposes may not be deductible from income for support purposes. The Pennsylvania support courts will carefully scrutinize the income claimed on the tax returns of self-employed individuals for these reasons.
CHILD SUPPORT GUIDELINES
Once the parents' monthly net incomes are calculated, Pennsylvania courts apply the Pennsylvania Child Support Guidelines to determine the amount of support payable for the children. The Pennsylvania Child Support Guidelines are formulas that consider the income of the parents and the number of children, among other factors. In addition to the Pennsylvania Support Guideline amount, an order for child support may also require payment of a portion of other costs such as medical coverage for the dependent spouse and/or children, medical expenses not covered by insurance, and child care costs incurred while the custodial parent is working or going to school. Child support may be established below the Pennsylvania Support Guideline amount if the parents have shared physical custody or the payer has other children to support.
HIGH INCOME CHILD SUPPORT CASES
If the parents of a minor child entitled to support have a combined monthly net income greater than twenty thousand dollars net per month, the Pennsylvania Child Support Guidelines are not utilized to determine the proper amount of support. Instead, the court looks to what are the "reasonable needs" of the minor child considering the parents' combined incomes. In this situation, the custodial parent must prepare a budget of the child's current and anticipated expenses given the income of both parents. This reasonable needs analysis is often referred to as a "Melzer case" after the Pennsylvania case that originally established this method for calculating support in high income cases.
LOW INCOME/PARTIAL CUSTODY CASES
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court in a recent case ruled that the parent who has primary physical custody and has a substantially greater income than the other parent, may be required to pay child support may be required to pay child support to the non-custodial parent.
TO RECEIVE SUPPORT
A person seeking child support must file a support complaint with the court in order to establish a right to collect support. There is not legal obligation to pay support on the other party until the complaint is filed with the court. The obligation to pay is only retroactive to the date on which the complaint for support was filed, not when the child was born or the parties separated. In the event that there is a reason to modify a support order such as an increase or decrease in income of either parent, the parent must file a petition to modify to determine whether their request is appropriate. Until a petition for modification is filed with the court and a new court order is entered, the parent paying support is required to continue making payments as outlined in the prior court order. Once an Order is entered, a parent who receives an increase in their income is required to notify the Domestic Relations office of their new income. In the event that this does not occur, the payer may be required to pay a higher amount retroactive to the time that they received their increase in income even if the modification petition was not filed until months later.
If you or someone you love is involved in, or will become involved in child support litigation in Harrisburg, York or surrounding areas of Pennsylvania, please contact Kope and Associates for a free consultation. The family law attorneys at Kope and Associates have particular experience in the complicated laws surrounding child support. Contact them today and have immediate experience on your side.top of page