August is National Child Support Awareness Month. President Clinton began the month of recognition in 1995 as part of his welfare reform agenda. The goal was to improve the collection of child support payments by widening the use of sanctions including wage garnishment and suspending driver’s licenses and passports for parents with child support arrears. As of today in Pennsylvania, wage garnishment is virtually always utilized to ensure child support payments can be collected. Child support in Pennsylvania is based on statewide guidelines established by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The guidelines are intended to ensure that similarly situated parties are treated similarly. Accordingly, all parties making $3000 per month with 3 kids would have the same basic support award based on the guideline amounts. The guidelines are based on an “Income Shares Model,” such that the amount is based on the combined net monthly income of both parties.
The amount of support reflected in the guidelines is based on the average expenditures of children for food, housing, transportation and other necessary miscellaneous items. Pennsylvania has established a self-support reserve based on the federal poverty guidelines, however, the support guidelines make financial support of children a top priority and the child’s needs in terms of support come first. The family court has the authority to issue a bench warrant to have a party who is not making support payments taken into custody. Additionally, the court can order additional incarceration at a subsequent support hearing as a means of reiterating the importance of regular support payments and demonstrating the severity of the punishment available for failure to comply. The court can also seize any lump sum payments due to the payor including, but not limited to, unemployment compensation, workers’ compensation, and Social Security retirement or disability benefits.