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 Child Support in Northwestern PA

       

 Overview

Natural and adoptive parents must support their children until age 18.  Stepparents are not normally required to provide support for their stepchildren.  However, if a stepfather agrees to be listed as the father on a child's birth certificate he may, under certain circumstances, have to pay support for that child.   (You should contact a private attorney for help with spousal support, temporary alimony and permanent alimony.)    

∙           Child support normally consists of a monthly cash payment to the parent who has the child(ren) living with him or her most of the time.  However, the non-custodial parent may also be required to pay a proportional share of the child care expenses so the custodial parent can work or get training, and a proportional share of medical costs for the children that are not paid by insurance. 

∙           A parent cannot stop or get rid of a support order by filing for bankruptcy, or by refusing to pay support.   Refusing to pay may lead to jail.  In addition, Pennsylvania courts will not enforce any agreement between parents that takes away adequate support for their child(ren).   

∙           Pennsylvania’s welfare law limits cash assistance benefits to five years in the lifetime of a parent.  If you are getting cash assistance, obtaining the support benefits you need is very important because it may allow you to go off cash assistance completely.  This would preserve your future eligibility for cash assistance should you again need help. 

IMPORTANT:  If you are getting cash assistance benefits from the County Assistance Office, and you get a support order that allows you to go off assistance, the Domestic Relations Office must redirect your support payments from the welfare department to you immediately after they stop your cash assistance.  If your support is not redirected right away, contact Northwestern Legal Services for help. 

How to Get or Change a Support Order 

·         Go to your Domestic Relations Office support intake unit to file a petition to receive or change a support order.  Remember, you must show a change of circumstances if you are trying to modify an existing order.  There is an initial fee for filing a support case.  However, the individual filing the petition does not pay the fee.  Non-custody parent, i.e., the Defendant, will be assessed the filing costs and be required to pay the costs.  

·         If you do not already have a support order, the father you name in the petition will have the opportunity to decide whether to accept paternity of the child(ren), unless you are married to him or he signed an Acknowledgment of Paternity when the child(ren) were born.  If the father denies paternity, blood tests will be ordered.  He must pay for the test if paternity is confirmed.  You must pay for the test if it fails to confirm paternity. 

·         Once paternity is established, or you are modifying an existing support order, a support conference will be held to decide how much support the non-custodial parent will pay.  The purpose of the conference is to verify accuracy of wage and income information for both parents, determine the amount of the monthly support payment using the support schedule and consider any requests for additional support for child care and health care expenses or relief from the support schedule due to a “hardship.”  Support conferences are usually held in a courthouse office and are very informal.  They consist mostly of the conference officer reviewing the income information provided by the parents and applying the support schedule to decide the amount of the order.  The odds of the support hearing officer deciding the case the way you feel is fair are greatly increased by proper preparation.  For example, photographs of the other party working, records reflecting employment and applications by the other party for credit can be very useful to convince the hearing officer that the other party’s income or earning potential is greater than what they claim at the support hearing.  If you have child care and/or medical expenses not covered by insurance, ask that the order make the non-custodial parent responsible for a portion of those expenses.  As mentioned above, the parent who has to pay support may claim that paying the amount determined from the support schedule is a hardship.  However, reduction of support due to a claim of hardship is normally not allowed.  Therefore, you should object to any attempt to depart from the support schedule due to a claim of hardship.  See the section below for a description of possible reasons for deviation from the support schedule.  

·         If you do not agree with the results of the support conference, you can file an appeal called “Exceptions.”  How your exceptions are handled depends on which county you live in.  If you live in Cameron, Crawford, Erie, Mercer and Potter counties, an interim order based on the support guidelines is entered after the conference.  You then have 10 days to file exceptions.  If no one files exceptions, the interim order becomes final.  If exceptions are filed, a hearing is scheduled before the court.  The Court holds what is called a “DeNovo Hearing”.  A hearing in which all evidence has been resubmitted and each party has to argue their position before a Judge.  All Rules of Evidence apply.  The parties are sworn in and must testify.  In Elk, Forest, McKean, Venango and Warren counties, an interim order is also entered based on the support guidelines.  However, if someone files exceptions, instead of the case going straight to the court, a hearing is scheduled before a hearing officer.  After the hearing, the hearing officer files a report with the court that includes a recommended support order.  The court will then enter an interim order based on the report of the hearing officer. You will have 10 days to file exceptions from that interim order.  If no one files exceptions, the interim order becomes final.  If someone files exceptions, the court will hear argument and then enter a final order. 

·         You can ask the court to appoint an attorney to represent you at any point in your support case under a law called Title IV-D (23 Pa. C.S.A. § 4306(b)).  However, the court is not required to appoint an attorney to represent you and, normally, will not do so unless your case is unusually complex or there is other good reason for a lawyer to be appointed.

 

How Does the Domestic Relations Office Calculate the Amount of Support  

·         As noted above, the Domestic Relations Office (DRO) will schedule a conference with you and the non-custodial parent to get the information they need to decide how much support will be paid.  The DRO will tell you the information you need to bring when they send you the notice scheduling the conference. 

·         Each parent is expected to contribute to the support of their child(ren).  The support office has guidelines which tell them the average monthly expense for raising a child or children.  The main job of the support conference officer is to decide how to fairly divide the monthly expenses between each parent.  The following describes how this is done: 

                      The gross income of each parent is determined.  Gross income includes the “before tax” income  from  employment, self-employment income after deduction of business expenses, and unearned income such as unemployment compensation, workers' compensation, pension, social security disability benefits, interest, rents, royalties and dividends.  However, SSI and cash assistance benefits are not considered to be available to pay child support and, therefore, are not included in calculating gross income.  The total amount of gross income for the last six months is used to help adjust for variations resulting from overtime or other income fluctuations.

                      The net income of each parent is determined.  Net income is gross income with all federal, state and local taxes taken out.  In addition, if either parent has to pay union dues, non-voluntary payments into a pension, or alimony to the other parent, those amounts are also deducted from gross income.

                      The average monthly expense to care for the child(ren) is determined.  The net income of each parent is added together.  This is the combined net monthly income.  The support officer will plot the combined net monthly income on something called the Basic Child Support Schedule.   (A copy of the first page of this schedule are attached to this pamphlet below.)  The figure on the schedule corresponding to the combined net monthly income and the number of children receiving support is the total monthly expense to care for the child(ren).  Please note: if the non-custodial parent's net monthly income falls within the shaded area on the chart, the custodial parent's income is not added to the non-custodial parent's income in determining the total combined net monthly income.

                      The amount of support the non-custodial parent must pay is determined.   Each parent is responsible for paying a proportionate share of their income to meet the average monthly expense to care for the child(ren) as listed in the Basic Child Support Schedule.  For example: if the custodial parent's net income is $500 per month, and the non-custodial parent's net income is $1,000 per month, the custodial parent is responsible for one third of the average monthly expense and the non-custodial parent two-thirds.  Using this example, and assuming  support for one child, the Basic Support Schedule says the total monthly expense to care for the child is $365 per month.  (This figure is circled on the excerpt from the Basic Child Support Schedule included with this pamphlet below.)  Since the non-custodial parent must pay two-thirds of the total monthly expense, a support order of $243 per month will be entered:  ($386 x .666 = $243).  (Please note, in most cases, where a support order reduces the parent paying support’s net income below $748 per month, the amount of support will be adjusted to insure that parent has at least $748 net income.  Thus, in the example above, the $243 per month support obligation would not be reduced since the remaining income is above &748: $1,000 - $243 = $757) 

                      Child care and medical expenses for the child(ren) are divided.  These expenses are divided proportionately between the parents, just like the monthly expense listed in the Basic Child Support Schedule.  For example:  if the child care expense is $150 per month and the non-custodial parent earns two thirds of the total combined net monthly income of the parents, the non-custodial parent must pay $100 per month and the custodial parent $50 per month toward the monthly child care expense.  The amount of the child care expense the non-custodial parent must pay is added to his or her basic support payment.  Medical expenses not paid by insurance, and health insurance premiums payable by the non-custodial parent, are divided the same way as child care expenses, except that the custodial parent is responsible for the first $250 per year of medical expenses.  Note:  the non-custodial parent cannot be required to pay un-reimbursed medical expenses for cosmetic, chiropractic, psychiatric or psychological services, unless the custodial parent first goes to court to get approval for those expenses from a judge. 

                      Additional factors which may affect the amount of the support order.  The following is a partial list of  additional factors which might change the amount of support the non-custodial parent must pay: 

                      Non-custodial parent has partial custody at least 40%of the year (146 overnights).  In this case, the non-custodial parent may be entitled to a reduction in the amount of support he or she must pay. 

                      Departure from the Basic Child Support Schedule.  In most cases, the support order should be based on the monthly expense to care for the child(ren) set forth in the Basic Child Support Schedule.  Variation from the schedule is only allowed where the parent requesting the variation can show a valid reason.  Reasons for allowing a variation include: unusual needs and unusual fixed obligations; other support obligations of the parties; other income in the household; ages of the children; assets of the parties; medical expenses not covered by insurance; and other relevant and appropriate factors, including the best interests of the child or children. 

                      Mortgage payments exceeding 25% of the custodial parent's income.  Mortgage payments for support purposes includes first mortgages, real estate taxes and homeowner’s insurances and may include any home equity or subsequent mortgages.  Where the custodial parent resides in a home subject to a joint mortgage, the court presumes that the occupying party is paying the mortgage.  However, when the mortgage payment exceeds 25% of the custodial parent’s monthly net income, the non-custodial parent can be ordered to pay up to 50% of the mortgage payment which exceeds 25% of the custodial parent's income.  For example: Mrs. C’s monthly net income is $1,000 and her mortgage payment is $500.  Mr. C can be ordered to pay half of the mortgage payment that exceeds 25% of Mrs. C’s income or, half of $250, or $125. When the non-custodial parent resides in the home and the mortgage exceeds 25% of his income.  The Court may make an appropriate downward adjustment. 

                      Multiple families.  Departure from the support schedule is not allowed because a non-custodial parent has a new family or has to pay support orders for more than one family.  However, no more than 50% of a non-custodial parent's net income can be used to pay support and, as noted earlier, a parent must be left with at least $748 in net income. Therefore, if there is more than one support order, and the combined totals of the orders exceed 50% of the non-custodial parent's income, the amount of support owed to each household will be reduced proportionately. 

                      Private school tuition/summer camps etc.  The support schedule does not take into consideration expenditures for these costs, however the costs for these can be divided proportionately, if the support officer determines they are necessary and reasonable.   The cost of these expenses will then be allocated proportionally to the net income of the parties. 

When Should You File for Support or a Change in Your Support Order 

·         The custodial parent, or the parent having physical custody of the child(ren) more than 50% of the time, is entitled to support from the non-custodial parent.   The custodial parent must file for support with the Domestic Relations Office at the county courthouse in the county where he or she is living.  

·         If you get cash assistance from the County Assistance Office, the law requires you to seek support, unless you have a very good reason for not wishing to do so.  Contact Northwestern Legal Services right away for help if you feel you cannot file for support. 

·         If you already have a support order, you may want to modify it if a change in circumstances has resulted in the non-custodial parent getting:  1)  a raise or promotion;   2)  a better paying job; or,  3)  health care coverage.  In addition, if you have new or increased child care or medical expenses for your child(ren) you can get your support order changed.  Note: Changes to the support rules that became effective on January 26, 2006 could result in you getting less support if the non-custodial parent has relatively low income.  However, in higher income cases, the non-custodial parent will usually pay more under the new support schedule than under the old guidelines.  Use the information concerning how to calculate support described earlier in this pamphlet to help you figure out how much the other parent might have to pay if you asked for a review of your order.  If you have child care, medical or other expenses, those will be added to the basic child support payment as described in the previous section in this pamphlet.  Any variations from the basic support payment will also be applied.  See the above section of this pamphlet for a description of possible variations from the basic support payment.  If the combined net monthly income is higher than what is shown in the attached excerpt from the Basic Child Support Schedule, your local county courthouse law library has the entire Schedule.  Go to the law library and ask the librarian for the most recent edition of the Pennsylvania Rules of Court.   Look  up  Rule of Civil Procedure 1910.16-Otherwise, the entire schedule is available on the Internet at:                                           http://www.pacode.com/secure/data/231/chapter1910/s1910.16-3.html

·        Besides getting your support order modified because of a change in circumstances, the law says your support order must be automatically reviewed once every three years.   

Getting Your Support Order Enforced 

·        The law requires that support payments be taken directly from the wages of the person obligated to pay support.  If you are not getting your support and the person ordered to pay is earning wages, make sure the court is attaching those wages.                       

·        Unfortunately, most County Domestic Relations offices do not have enough employees to promptly go after everyone who is not paying their support.  The following tips may help you get the most out of your support enforcement worker: 

·        Be an investigator.  If you can give the support enforcement office timely, accurate information about the person who owes you support, you are more likely to get the support you deserve.  Important information includes where he or she lives and his or her current place of employment.
 

·        Be persistent in asserting your right to support (“the squeaky wheel gets the grease”) but, even though getting the support you are due can be frustrating, rude or angry behavior directed toward the enforcement officer will be counterproductive to your goal.
 

·        Besides wage attachments, the threat of incarceration and intercept of income tax refunds, the Domestic Relations office has a number of other ways to collect support.  These include: freezing and seizing bank accounts, suspension of driver’s, professional, hunting and fishing licenses, entry of civil judgments and posting of security to insure payment of future support.

·        Consider getting help from a private business that specializes in finding absent parents and collecting support.  Information about these businesses can be found on the Internet.  (You should be able to get access to the Internet at your local library.)  You may not have to pay an up front fee to get help from one of these businesses if substantial back support is owed to you.  However, if the business is successful in getting back support for you, they will then take part of the support collected as their fee.

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Monthly Basic Child Support Schedule, Page 1 as posted in the PA Code

The following guidelines were current at the time this document was written, and may have changed since that time.

Rule 1910.16-3. Support Guidelines. Basic Child Support Schedule ( as posted as of May 2010). The following schedule sets forth the amounts spent on children in intact families by combined income and number of children. Combined income is on the vertical axis of the schedule and number of children is on the horizontal axis of the schedule. This schedule is used to find the basic child support obligation. Unless otherwise provided in these rules, the obligor’s share of the basic support obligation shall be computed using the formula set forth in Part I of Rule 1910.16-4.

 

Monthly Basic Child Support Schedule

COMBINED ADJUSTED NET
INCOME

ONE
CHILD

TWO CHILDREN

THREE CHILDREN

FOUR CHILDREN

FIVE CHILDREN

SIX CHILDREN

0-900

50

55

60

65

70

75

950

75

76

77

78

78

79

1000

120

121

123

124

125

127

1050

165

167

169

171

172

174

1100

210

212

215

217

219

222

1150

255

258

261

264

266

269

1200

294

303

307

310

313

317

1250

306

349

353

357

360

364

1300

318

394

399

403

407

412

1350

330

440

445

450

454

459

1400

342

485

491

496

501

507

1450

354

514

537

543

548

554

1500

365

531

583

589

595

602

1550

377

548

629

636

642

649

1600

389

565

665

682

689

697

1650

401

582

684

729

736

744

1700

412

598

704

775

783

792

1750

424

615

723

808

830

839

1800

436

631

742

829

877

887

1850

447

648

762

851

924

934

 

Explanatory Comment—2010

   The basic child support schedule has been amended to reflect updated economic data. The schedule has been expanded to include all cases in which the parties’ combined net monthly income is $30,000 or less. It also reflects an increase in the Self-Support Reserve to $867, the 2008 poverty level for one person. The schedule was further adjusted to incorporate an assumption that the children spend 30% of the time with the obligor.

Source

   The provisions of this Rule 1910.16-3 adopted September 6, 1989, effective September 30, 1989, 19 Pa.B. 4151; amended October 25, 1989, effective October 25, 1989, 19 Pa.B. 4861; amended January 27, 1993, effective immediately, 23 Pa.B. 701; amended July 15, 1994, effective September 1, 1994, 24 Pa.B. 3802; amended December 7, 1998, effective April 1, 1999, 28 Pa.B. 6162; amended October 27, 2000, effective immediately, 30 Pa.B. 5837; amended September 27, 2005, effective 4 months from the date of this order, 35 Pa. B. 5643; amended January 12, 2010, effective May 12, 2010, 40 Pa.B. 586. Immediately preceding text appears at serial pages (314421) to (314447).

 

Explanatory Comment—2005

   The schedule has been amended to reflect updated economic data. See Explanatory Comment—2005 following Rule 1910.16-1.

 

 

 Disclaimer:
We have attempted to insure the accuracy of the information in this pamphlet at the time it was created or revised. However, the law does change, sometimes quickly and unexpectedly. Therefore, you should consult an attorney before taking or refraining from any action based on the information in this pamphlet.

Last Modified May 2010



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