What Should Families Know About Child Support in Pennsylvania?
Child support is an integral part of any divorce filing. Divorcing parents must agree to support the children, and one of them will pay child support every month. Child support is often thought of as an attempt to obtain money by one parent, but that money is meant to support the children. In the state of Pennsylvania, for instance, it is assumed that all child support money will be spent on the children. If a spouse wants to be paid for their contribution to the marriage, they should petition for alimony; however, child support should come first.
Child support has a strict set of guidelines that must be followed, and parents need to learn the details of child support before they complete their divorce filing. Although parents might agree to a child support amount that is determined by the state, parents may also be asked to make extra payments that are noted below. Families are urged to each out to a Philadelphia divorce lawyer when the divorce proceeding begins.
Parents need to understand how child support is paid, how it can change, and how it might be supplemented. There are also remedies for unpaid child support and methods of modification and accommodation that may be used. Parents should consult with a lawyer to avoid any issues with their child support settlement. This is especially true if the parents have a difficult time communicating as their relationship dissolves.
What is Child Support?
Child support is the amount paid to the custodial parent by the non-custodial parent. The custodial parent must provide shelter, food, clothing, and educational support for their children. They often cannot do this without help from their former partner. Child support is calculated using a formula that is provided by the state of Pennsylvania. Parents can enter their respective incomes into the formula and determine the amount of their preliminary child support payments.
Child support can be requested by a parent who was not married to the mother or father of their child. Child support, additionally, can be requested during a trial separation, or it will be ordered as part of a divorce settlement. Parents should reach out to an attorney as soon as possible when they believe the other parent is not fulfilling their obligations. Although a non-marital relationship does not come with a contract, it comes with a duty of care by which both parents must abide.
Support payments must be made to the custodial parent through the court, paycheck, or private agreement. In short, child support must be paid. The custodial parent might ask that child support be taken from their ex-spouse’s paycheck. This is a good way to prevent non-payment. Payments might be made through the court to provide evidence that the non-custodial parent is abiding by the court order; or the two parents can pass payments to one another using checks, cash, and private bank transfers. Every couple is free to come to an agreement that makes sense for both parties.
Who Pays Child Support?
The non-custodial parent pays child support. This is because the custodial parent spends most of their time with the child. Regardless of who filed for divorce, the non-custodial parent can be asked to pay child support as part of the divorce decree. The parents can agree on a child support payment schedule before their divorce is finalized or they can wait for payments to begin when the divorce decree is stamped and signed by the court.
Child support might also be paid by an unmarried parent who is no longer cohabitating with the mother or father of the child. Although child support is often confined to divorces in the public discourse, a parent who has been left by their fiancé(e) or significant other may request child support through the court.
Women left behind by their partner can file a claim for child support. Men left with a child to raise can also file a claim for child support. Parents should not agree to pay child support until they have consulted with a divorce lawyer. It is unwise to agree to pay for anything without those payments documented in writing. A verbal agreement is easy to breach. When negotiating with an ex-spouse, the other spouse should have a lawyer present.
Is Child Support Mandatory?
Child support is not mandatory when a divorce is filed. At the same time, child support can be requested by the custodial parent. Once child support has been ordered, it must be paid under Pennsylvania law. Child support enforcement is handled by the court when the non-custodial parent will not remit payment properly. When child support goes unpaid, the non-custodial parent could face the following consequences:
- Be held in contempt of civil court, fined $500, and placed on probation for six months
- Have their bank accounts seized
- Have their Workers’ Compensation or personal injury awards seized
- Have their federal and state income tax refunds seized
- Have their driver’s license, professional licenses, commercial license, or boating or fishing license suspended
- Be denied passport privileges
- Have liens applied to any real property they own
- Lose their lottery prizes
- Have their child support delinquency reported to credit bureaus
The remedies listed are used to resolve child support delinquency. At the same time, the non-custodial parent might be so far behind in payments that criminal charges must be filed. The delinquent parent can be charged with a felony or misdemeanor and jailed for up to six months. Traditionally, a family law judge determines how child support enforcement will be handled.
When a lawyer represents the custodial parent, they can petition for certain remedies that are deemed most effective. In like manner, the custodial parent may have knowledge of a lottery prize, financial windfall, or income tax refund that could be used to pay for child support. Consulting with an attorney gives the custodial parent more options for child support enforcement when meeting with a judge or going before the court. Parents who are not receiving their child support payments may not want to petition the court on their own because they do not know how to specifically file a complaint for non-payment.
There are forms to fill out and options to consider. A child support lawyer can work out a plan for remediation. In certain cases, the non-paying parent can get caught up on child support, but there are other instances in which they need to be fined, jailed, or have other actions taken against them.
When criminal non-payment of support occurs, the parent’s rights might also be terminated. The custodial parent’s lawyer may petition for a termination of parental rights, and that termination will be granted when the judge believes this is in the best interests of the child. It is assumed that someone who is not paying child support is not interested in the health or well-being of the child. Therefore, they should not retain parental rights to that child. In general terms, a parent who is three months behind on their child support will be subjected to penalties under the law.
How is Child Support Calculated?
Although the state uses guidelines to create a child support order, those guidelines are limited. The judge may need to create a broader child support order that considers several different things. Although the parents can work with their attorneys to easily calculate their child support, the judge may want to make changes. Child support can be calculated using a range of factors, including the following:
- Special needs for the child
- Any fixed obligations of the parents
- Additional household income
- The ages of the children
- Any assets of the parents
- Other liabilities of the parents
- Outstanding medical bills
- Quality of life
- The best interests of the child
A judge can make determinations based on these factors because the custodial parent may need extra money to care for the child. A parent who is ordered to pay child support may not have the ability to pay extra because they have outstanding expenses. The children may be older and incur additional expenses, or the non-custodial parent might have additional household income to consider. If the parents have assets that they can access, the judge might account for those assets when ordering child support payments. For example, a non-custodial father who claims he cannot make additional payments may have stocks that provide him with the cash required to make those payments.
Conversely, a parent who is truly saddled with extra medical bills or liabilities may be incapable of paying child support at the level that is required. The child might enjoy a certain quality of life that must be supported, and the judge may believe that more or less child support will serve the best interests of the child. Circumstances such as these are why a judge must review everything before issuing a final child support order.
Can Parents Use the Online Child Support Calculator?
The state of Pennsylvania has an online child support calculator that provides guidance when calculating preliminary child support payments. However, the child support calculator is not final or binding. Additionally, the child support payments can be changed based on what the judge believes is appropriate for the situation. Some parents even get the wrong impression of how much they will pay by using this calculator and will be surprised when the judge orders something that is vastly different.
The calculator is a guide, but it is not used by lawyers. Instead, lawyers use regulations released by the state to calculate child support payments carefully. Clients should allow the lawyer to collect evidence that will substantiate a claim for higher or lower support payments.
Can Child Support Be Modified?
Child support modifications can be requested by either party at any time. Although modifications are common, they must be accompanied by evidence that supports the modification. The non-custodial parent should hire a child support lawyer who can help them prove their case. A judge will ask the parent to explain why they have difficulty making their payments. The parent can note an adverse financial situation, job loss, or other issue that might make child support difficult to pay. The court might seek to modify the existing order so that the non-custodial parent can make faithful payments.
The non-custodial parent may also request a modification of the support order if the custodial parent has cohabitated with a potential mate, remarried, or their financial situation has changed. Child support can also be modified to remove a child who has reached the age of majority.
When parents have multiple children, they may need to modify their order every time a child reaches the age of 18. At the same time, a child with special needs may remain on child support for a longer period. Therefore, modifications must be reviewed by a lawyer first. Parents should not try to negotiate child support payments on their own. They should allow a lawyer to collect all the evidence and offer a reasonable modification settlement to the court.
What If the Non-Custodial Parent is Unemployed?
Some non-custodial parents do not have traditional jobs or gainful employment. In these situations, the non-custodial parent may need to access other sources of income to pay child support. The court must be made aware of all forms of income available to the parent. Alternative income sources include the following:
- Social Security benefits
- Veterans Administration benefits
- Unemployment benefits
- Interest from investments
Unemployment and disability or retirement income from a non-custodial parent may be used to pay child support. The income for the parent might be modest, but the parent will need to pay a percentage of that income to the custodial parent. Interest from investments can be easy to calculate, and the parent must report this income when submitting paperwork to the court.
If there is confusion over how income is reported, the parents should hire a child support lawyer to help. A lawyer can determine the source of the income, how much income should be factored into the support settlement, and mediate child support discussions.
Can a Parent Stop Working to Avoid Child Support?
Based on information regarding punishment and remedies for missed child support payments, it could be assumed that a parent cannot pay for child support if they do not work. The court cannot force someone to go to work. The court, however, can act as if the non-custodial parent should be working.
When a parent is purposefully not working or earning far less than they could be, the court can impute income. This means that the judge can calculate how much the parent should be able to earn under normal circumstances. Someone who legitimately cannot find work or hold down a job is not subject to this technique. If a judge determines that the parent is being deliberately obtuse about the situation, they can be ordered to pay child support based on the judge’s calculations. The parent will, then, be held in contempt if they do not pay.
This is a simple way to force a parent to pay child support when they attempt to circumvent the legal system.
Can Child Support Be Supplemented?
Child support is not supplemented through a support order. The support order includes only the amount that the family law judge believes should be paid every month. There are, however, additional expenses for which the parents might agree outside of a child support order.
For example, the child might participate in dance classes. Because photographs, outfits, lessons, dance group competitions, and registration can vary, parents can supplement child support by agreeing to one-time payments in their parenting plan. It can be difficult to reliably split up these payments throughout the year as part of a child support order.
Child support might also be supplemented through health insurance. Health insurance may be included in a child support order if the custodial parent does not have insurance. The non-custodial parent might have a job that provides insurance, and they can add the value of the insurance to the child support order. If the roles were reversed, the custodial parent might be paid an additional amount needed to cover their child’s insurance premiums.
When Does Child Support End?
Child support ends when the child reaches the age of 18 or when they graduate college, depending on the divorce decree. The parents may agree to extend child support until the child graduates from college or obtains a pre-determined graduate degree. If the child has special needs that would prevent them from taking care of themselves, the parents may agree to indefinite child support.
Child support also ends when the custodial parent re-marries. In extreme cases, the custodial parent might marry without notifying their ex-spouse. In situations such as this, the non-custodial parent may request a modification when they uncover evidence that their child support payments should have ended.
Why Should Divorcing or Separating Parents Hire a Lawyer?
Child support is an emotional and complicated business. A parent who is taking the children after a divorce might believe they cannot survive without help from their ex-spouse. If their ex-spouse seems to be uninterested in paying, a lawyer may need to get involved. A lawyer can calculate the appropriate amount of child support and request that amount from the court.
A lawyer can collect evidence to substantiate their claim for child support and speak on behalf of their client. Child support can get so emotional that parents will argue without ever reaching a resolution. A lawyer can mediate the situation by explaining what the standard child support payment should be. A lawyer can also help make the child support order look reasonable when it is presented to the court.
Because child support is often part of a separation or divorce, a lawyer should be hired to help record the entire divorce petition, mediate any issues between the two ex-spouses, and arrange for child support to begin before the divorce decree is stamped.
Philadelphia Divorce Lawyers at Freedman & Lorry, P.C. Help Clients Create Child Support Payment Plans
Contact the Philadelphia divorce lawyers at Freedman & Lorry, P.C. when you need help with a child custody battle and calculating your child support. Because child support can be so complex, we will help clients determine the proper amount. We also help with modifications when needed. Call us today at 888-999-1962 or contact us online for a free consultation. With offices in Philadelphia, Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and Pinehurst, North Carolina, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania.