Establishing and Calculating Child Support FAQ

PA Child Support Calculator

See: PA Child Support Program- State Page

Frequently asked questions to help you determine how much child support a non-custodial parent must pay.

Sources for PA laws governing child support are located here.

Determining the Amount of Child Support

Generally, child support payments are for the ordinary expenses of food, shelter, clothing, education and medication needs for the children only. In determining child support, a court will look at all the following issues:

The Needs of the Children - For example, an ill or developmentally disabled child will often require a higher level of support than a healthy child.

The Age of the Children - Infants and younger children often cost less to support than older children. However, daycare costs, which can be significant, will also be taken into account.

The Ability of the Non-custodial Parent to Pay - The court will look at income from all sources when it decides on the amount of child support. Generally your ability to pay does not include calculations of bills and debts such as car payments, credit cards, etc. If the non-custodial parent marries again, the court will usually not look at the new spouse's income. However, there are some exceptions. The court will consider a new spouse's income if one of the following occurs:

(1) The parent paying the child support claims that s/he is unable to pay because of debts.

(2) "Voluntary Impoverishment" - The court may look at a new spouse's income if the custodial parent claims that the parent who owes

the support has left a job voluntarily in order to avoid paying child support.

(3) There is a claim that the parent paying child support is hiding assets.

The Earning Capacity of the Custodial Parent - Both parents have the duty to support their children, not just the paying parent. The court will also look at the earnings of the custodial parent. In particular the court will look at the resources which are available to support the children. The court may also look at your capacity to earn more money. The court may also consider the income of a new spouse when determining child support levels.

The Other Responsibilities of the Parents - The court will also look at the other lawful responsibilities of both parents. For example, if the non-custodial parent is paying child support from a previous marriage, the court will consider that obligation also. Necessities of life, such as rent and food will also be considered by the court. However, the court will not reduce child support payments to make it easier for you to pay discretionary obligations. For example, a parent cannot buy an expensive car instead of providing for his or her own children.

My soon-to-be-ex-wife wants custody of our children. She has a much higher income than I do. Will I have to pay child support, even though I earn much less money than her?

Courts are supposed to strive for fairness to the parents in establishing the dollar amount of child support obligations. When setting child support, a court normally considers the relative income and assets of both spouses. If the custodial parent earns more than the non-custodial parent, child support may be a small or nominal amount. In the real world, however, the custodial parent is usually the mother and normally has much less income than the non-custodial father. Accordingly, when courts consider the relative assets and income of the parties, they usually end up awarding child support to the custodial parent, who most often is the mother.

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Even though I have a high yearly salary, I have many expenses such as loan payments and income taxes. Will the court consider these expenses when determining my ability to pay child support?

Courts always consider a person's ability to pay when setting his child support obligations. A court looks at the payer's gross income from all sources (wages, public benefits, interest and dividends on investments, rents from real property, profits from patents and the like, and any other sources of income), less any mandatory deductions (income taxes, Social Security, health care and mandatory union dues). The result is the payer's net income.

In most states, deductions for credit union payments, wage attachments and the like are not subtracted when calculating net income. Thus, if John makes $2,000 per month, and income tax, Social Security, unemployment insurance benefits and other government deductions reduce his income to $1,500, this is his net income. The fact that $300 more is withheld to pay a credit union loan does not further reduce his net income for the court's purposes. The reason for this rule is that the law accords support payments a higher priority than other types of debts, and would rather see other debts not paid than have a spouse or child go without adequate support.

Also when setting support obligations, in some states the court may take into account the reasonable expenses incurred by the paying spouse for his own basic necessaries of life (such as rent or mortgage, food, clothing and health care). Courts, however, typically do not allow expenses such as school expenses, dining outside the home and entertainment to influence their support determination on the theory that family support should come before these types of personal expenses. And in a growing number of states, the expenses of the paying spouse are irrelevant.

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I pay child support for children from a previous marriage. How will this affect what I'll have to pay as a result of my current proceedings?

Some states allow you to deduct the amount of child support you pay for other children from your net income figure, which is used to determine how much support you should pay. This acts as sort of a credit. If you are asked to complete a financial statement, be sure to include this expense.

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Can the court base its child support order on what I am able to earn as opposed to what I'm actually earning?

In most states, the judge is authorized to examine a parent's ability to earn as well as what she is actually earning, and order higher child support if there is a discrepancy. Actual earnings are an important factor in determining a person's ability to earn, but are not conclusive where there is evidence that a person could earn more if she chose to do so.

For example, assume a parent with an obligation to pay child support leaves his current job and enrolls in medical or law school, takes a job with lower pay but good potential for higher pay in the future, or takes a lower paying job that provides better job satisfaction. In each of these situations, a court may base the child support award on the income from the original job (ability to earn) rather than on the new income level (ability to pay). The basis for this decision would be that the children's current needs take priority over the parent's career plans and desires.

On the other hand, several courts have ruled that a parent's imprisonment entitles the parent to a reduction or suspension of child support where there is no showing that the imprisonment resulted from an attempt to avoid paying the support.

Family Support Act of 1988
(42 U.S.C. Section 666)

The Family Support Act of 1988 reformed the U.S. welfare system by emphasizing enforcement of child support orders against delinquent parents and expanded job training and educational opportunities to reduce parents' reliance on welfare.

Under the act, all states must include automatic wage attachments in new or modified child support orders, with few exceptions.

The act also encourages states to use paternity tests to establish responsibility for child support, and requires the use of guidelines in making support awards. By 1995, states must develop automatic tracking and monitoring systems for parents not paying support.

And because refusal to pay child support is often linked to frustrated visitation, the act funds projects to improve non-custodial parents' access to their children.

The act also creates a new Job Opportunities and Basic Skills Training (JOBS) Program to help welfare recipients enter or reenter the job market. Participation is required, except for parents who are pregnant or caring for children under age three. Parents with children under six need only participate part-time. If a parent fails to participate, she loses her Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) benefits.

While each state's program is different, all offer basic education and skills training, and may offer on-the-job training, community work experience and job searching. They focus on unemployed custodial and noncustodial parents who are, or are likely to become, long-term welfare recipients. The states must provide child care and Medicaid for up to one year to assist the transition from welfare to work.

Before the act, in some states, AFDC was available for only single parents. Now it offers benefits, including cash assistance, job training, Medicaid and child care, for intact families whose principal earner is unemployed.

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