Calculating Child Support

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 with a combined monthly income of $5000 per month with 3 kids would arguably have the same support obligation based on the guideline amounts. There is a presumption, albeit rebuttable, that the amount of support indicated by the guidelines is the appropriate amount. The guidelines are based on an “Income Shares Model” with the designated obligation being subsequently shared by the parties based on percentage of custody time as well as percentage of income.

The amount of support reflected in the guidelines is meant to provide for average expenditures for food, housing, transportation and other necessary miscellaneous items on behalf of the children. The guidelines make financial support of children a top priority. Accordingly, outside of the basic needs of the party providing support, the child’s needs in terms of support come first. Pennsylvania does however recognize a self-support reserve based on the federal poverty guidelines to ensure that a party is left with a certain amount per month to support themselves.

The first key step in calculating child support is determining the gross income of the parents. The list of what will be considered income for purposes of a support calculation is expansive. Sources of income include wages, salaries, bonuses, net income from businesses, interest, rent, royalties, dividends, all forms of retirement, income from interest in estate or trust, social security disability or retirement benefits, workers’ compensation and unemployment compensation. Alimony may be considered after the court examines the whether the alimony is intended for general support. Lump sum awards are also income and can be averaged over a certain period of time to identify how it translates into monthly income. Examples would include lottery winnings, income tax refunds, settlements, awards or verdicts and insurance compensation.

Net income will be used for purposes of the calculations. To determine net income, the rules provide that only taxes, mandatory union dues, and alimony paid to the other party be deducted. In a scenario where either party is unemployed or underemployed, an earning capacity may be imputed based on prior work history, education level, particular skill set or experience. Verification by a physician is required to prove that a party is physically incapable of working such that they should not be imputed any income.

The party having custody majority of the time is identified as the obligee or the party receiving the support. The party paying support is referred to as the obligor. In a shared custody situation there may still be a support order to be paid by the party with a higher income depending on the discrepancy in the parties’ incomes. The rules for arriving at the appropriate support award differ for low income as well as high (over $30,000/month combined income) income cases.

Adjustments may be made to the basic support obligation depending on additional expenses of the children. Health insurance premiums and child care expenses are routinely addressed as part of the support award and allocated between the parties based on percentage of income. Examples of other expenditures which may be considered include private school tuition, summer camp, and other special needs. An adjustment may also be appropriate if there are other children to support and the total support obligation for all children exceeds fifty percent (50%) of the obligor’s income.