The child support process in Pennsylvania can seem overwhelming and confusing. The purpose is to ensure that children are provided with resources to maintain their health and education. Whether you are a parent or guardian seeking support, or a parent trying to learn more about your obligations, we've put together some information about the basics of child support in Pennsylvania covering some of the most common circumstances.
Child Support Case
An application for child support begins with a complaint filed with the court, naming the parties involved. The "obligee" is the person asking for child support. This is usually a parent or guardian of the child. The "obligor" is the parent who is being asked to pay child support.
If the parents of the child were married when the child was born, the paternity of the child is assumed. If the mother of the child was not married when the child was born, paternity must be established. Paternity can be established by a form called an Acknowledgement of Paternity. Pennsylvania law allows for the obligor to acknowledge paternity through a verified writing. If the obligor, usually the father, does not agree to sign an Acknowledgment of Paternity, the court may order genetic testing.
Courts also require that the parent or individual who has custody over the child provide information about the parent without custody. If the location of the parent who is being asked to pay child support is unknown, the Domestic Relations Section of your local court can help through the Federal Parent Locator System.
Determining Child Support Obligation
In Pennsylvania, the amount a parent owes in child support is determined on the basis of both parents' net monthly incomes. Monthly net income is the take-home pay after taxes and other reductions. After determining the total net income of the parents together, courts look at the Basic Support Schedule. The Basic Support Schedule shows the amount of money that should be spent per child according to the parents' combined income and the number of children. Then, the total amount that should be spent per child is divided between parents based on their relative incomes.
General example: The father earns $1,000 a month after reductions, and the mother earns $2,000 a month after reductions. They have one child together. The combined net monthly income is $3,000. The Basic Support Schedule shows that the parents together should spend $704 dollars per month on their only child when their combined income is $3,000. Because the father contributes 1/3 of the total combined income ($1,000), he owes 1/3 of the $704 support, and the mother owes the other 2/3 support. This equals about $235 owed per month by the father, and about $470 per month by the mother. If the father has custody of the child, the mother will pay her share of the support to the father.
Please note, however, that adjustments can be made to the Basic Support Schedule to account for many factors. Common factors that may affect child support include shared custody, spousal support after divorce, and very high incomes.
Paying and Receiving Child Support
Pennsylvania distributes child support benefits in two ways. The first is through a direct deposit to a personal bank account. The parent or guardian will receive the funds directly and use them for the child. The second way is through Pennsylvania's EPPICard Debit Mastercard. The EPPICard acts just like a normal debit card that you can use at any store that accepts payment by card. Payments are made directly to the card and are available immediately.
Most child support payments in Pennsylvania are made through income withholding. However, if an employer does not have a court order to withhold income, or the income comes from another source, payments are made directly to the Pennsylvania Child Support Program. Payments may be made online over the phone, or through the mail.
Modifications to Child Support Orders
Modifications to child support orders may be made at any time to adjust for a substantial change in circumstances. Either parent may file a child support modification petition, and the petition may request an increase or decrease in child support based on the change in circumstance. Some examples that may qualify as a change in circumstances include: an increase or decrease in income, the child's changing needs as they grow, the child needs more financial support due to illness or disability, a parent receives a large inheritance, or a parent loses their job.
Learning about the child support system is only the first step in helping your child secure the support that he needs. Trying to deal with these issues alone can sometimes lead to mistakes and could even prevent a child from fully benefitting from Pennsylvania's child support rules. An experienced family law attorney or legal aid group in your area may be able to help you navigate this complicated field or provide information specific to your circumstances.
Contact a qualified attorney.