Child support laws in Pennsylvania can be confusing. Determining the amount of the obligation requires full financial disclosure by both parents, mathematical computations, and then discretionary adjustments by the court to suit the specific circumstances of your case. Knowing how payment amounts are calculated, as well as what events can result in a change or termination of the support order, will help answer some of your questions regarding child support in Pennsylvania.
How Support Is Calculated
In Pennsylvania, the person ordered to pay support is typically the parent with whom the child does not live. This parent is referred to as the non-custodial parent. The state uses a formula to calculate support that starts with combining the incomes of both parents. A chart is then used to determine how much of the combined incomes should go to the child's needs. The non-custodial parent is responsible for a percentage of the total support amount. The percentage is directly based on the proportion of that parent's income to the total combined income. So, a non-custodial parent that makes $60,000 of a total annual household income of $90,000 would be responsible for two-thirds of the support obligation.
Judges Can Adjust Support Amounts
The base support amount may not accurately fit your case. For that reason, judges have the ability to adjust support amounts in certain circumstances. For example, if the parent ordered to pay support has at least 40 percent of the overnights with the child under the custody order, he is allowed a reduction in the obligation. This is based on the presumption that a parent is already providing direct financial support to any child in his care. Likewise, the obligation may be increased if your child has extraordinary expenses or unusual needs.
The Duration of Support
Typically, a child support obligation will cease when your child either turns 18 or graduates from high school, whichever occurs later. However, support can last indefinitely in cases where a child has a disability. In Pennsylvania, you generally have no obligation to pay a child's college expenses, unless it was part of you divorce agreement.
How a Support Order Is Enforced
If the parent ordered to pay support fails to remain current for three months, both the state domestic relations office and the court can impose penalties. These penalties include the suspension of a driver's and professional licenses, as well as the interception of tax refunds and the seizing of property and bank accounts. A judge can also hold the parent in arrears in contempt of court, resulting in the imposition of fines and up to six months of jail time.
When a Modification Is Appropriate
In Pennsylvania, parents are entitled to an automatic review of a child support obligation every three years to account for changes in income, expenses, or the child's needs. In addition, parents may request a modification at any time if there is a substantial change in circumstances since the child support order was issued. Examples of a substantial change in circumstance include loss of employment, significant career advancement, or emancipation of the child.
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