There are several mechanisms for parents who have custody of their children to obtain some child support in Pennsylvania, when the other parent is not voluntarily providing it. The most obvious is, of course, to file at the local Domestic Relations office (DRO). If there is a Protection From Abuse petition filed, a request for an Order for temporary support can be presented, as well, in that action, but there is a requirement to file at DRO within ten (10) days of the entrance of the temporary order. The temporary amount will continue until DRO determines the appropriate amount.
DRO is required to apply the Supreme Court’s guideline figures if the parents are unable to arrive at a figure they can both agree is appropriate. Those guidelines, required by Federal Law, are reviewed and changed every four (4) years and, on May 12, 2010 new guidelines were implemented. There have some important changes in the guidelines including the changing of the amounts of support required based on incomes.
Essentially, the guidelines are a chart that puts the combination of both parents’ net incomes on the left side of the chart and the various amounts of money (Basic Support Obligation – BSO) deemed necessary to be contributed by both parents based on the number of children as columns beside the income ranges. Then the non-custodial parent’s obligation is a result of multiplying the amount for support on the chart indicated for the number of children and the joint net incomes by the percentage the non-custodial parent’s income is of the total joint net income. So, if a parent earns sixty percent (60%) of the joint net income, then that parent is expected to contribute 60% of the BSO.That parent will also pay that same percentage of any medical costs for each child after insurance has paid its’ share. The custodial parent is required to pay the first $250.00 in each calendar year for each child before the non-custodian has to begin to contribute toward the medical expenses of that child.
There are additional factors that impact the final amount to be paid each pay period. If there are daycare costs, the non-custodian will pay the same percentage as determined above for those costs. This will be added to the support award. There is a limit, normally 50% of net income, that can be taken from the non-custodian’s pay check. There also is consideration for the non-custodial parent who has more than the expected amount of overnights (must be at least 146 in a year) applied as a discount of the basic support award and if there are additional children either living with the non-custodial parent (that are the children of that parent) that can impact the amount of support.
One thing that many people do not factor in when trying to figure out in advance what the amount should be is that deductions to United Ways, 401(k)s, or other voluntary contributions and deductions from pay are not considered. Also, many of us have more Federal taxes deducted from each pay. I think many people see that refund as a vacation savings account. Not that banks give any real interest these days on savings accounts, but you are really giving the Federal government an interest free loan when you do that. The DRO computers have built in them the Federal directions to employers, called Circular E, about how much to deduct from each pay that is supposed to come out with no tax owed or to be refunded at the end of the year. Of course, it always seems better to get even a small
refund than having to pay the IRS. However, support numbers are figured as if the proper amount is withheld based on the filing status (married, single, head of household) and the number of deductions.
I have been practicing law for over thirty-eight (38) years. Seldom do I find anyone happy about the amount of support that is awarded.The people who have to pay say it is too much and doesn’t leave enough to live on, and the ones who collect it think it woefully too little.Maybe that means it is correct.
Of course, each parent has a responsibility to help support their children, and it is the rare parent who does not understand this or disagrees. However, the various complications of life and needs for additional funds strikes all but a few of us on an almost daily basis.That’s why I recommend to my clients on both sides of the custody issue to have the amount, even if it is agreed upon, to be entered as a Court Order through DRO. It provides an accounting and proof of payment, and it ensures, through a payroll deduction, that payments will be regular and consistent. The tires on the car in order to get to work are still purchased if the money is taken directly and the payer learns to live on the pay after the support is taken out. While employed and having the money taken out, the payer is relieved of the threat of imprisonment for failure to pay, and the payer doesn’t have to do anything like remembering to send a check or drop off money.
Another issue that comes up often is the request that the non-custodian give up rights to the child and thus be relieved of support obligations. This doesn’t happen! The only way one parent can be completely relieved of a legal obligation for their children is if the children are adopted by other people or a step-parent adopts while married to the other parent.
Finally, the other common issue is when one parent questions whether or not the person designated as the father is truly the father, in other words, paternity. If an appropriate document is signed at the birth of the child that clearly states that the signor understands that by signing he is acknowledging paternity, and no fraud is committed to induce that signature, it will be too late to do anything about it. The Courts used to strictly adhere to the doctrine that every child born while the mother is married is the child of the husband. That was in the days when being illegitimate carried with it a terrible stigma. However, the Courts have somewhat caught up with societal changes and have allowed husbands to challenge the paternity in certain instances and allowed the introduction of DNA testing to determine the paternity.Despite what you might think about the OJ trial, DNA is recognized by the courts as being real and statistically accurate.