Child Support

The principal goal of child support is to serve the best interests of the children by seeing that the reasonable needs and expenses of children are provided for by both parents even if the parents are unmarried, separated, or divorced. The law provides for the calculation of a child support obligation based on a formula and guidelines that take into consideration a variety of factors. The goal is to efficiently utilize the financial caretaking ability of both parents and ensure that the children enjoy access to education and extracurricular activities, and healthcare, as well as stable housing, keeping the children off of the welfare rolls.

The starting point for the calculation of a parent's child support obligation is a determination of each party's ability to pay child support. In making this determination, the county Domestic Relations office and ultimately the courts are required to consider all financial resources and forms of income. It is important to note that the law defines income as broadly as possible. This means that the court will consider forms of income even if it is illegal or not reported for income tax purposes. Examples of other forms of income include lottery or gambling winnings, personal injury or workers' compensation awards, tips, and monies earned "under the table."

In determining a party's income for child support purposes, the court may also consider whether the available income is improper. The courts have explained that a person's earning capacity is "the amount that a person realistically could earn under the circumstances, considering his age, health, mental and physical condition, training, and earnings history." See Woskob v. Woskob, 843 A.2d 1247, 1255 (Pa.Super. 2004). In other words, if a court determines that if a party's actual income is significantly lower than his or her earning capacity, then the court will assign that party an inflated income for the purposes of calculating child support. This caveat is intended to prevent one parent from manipulating his or her income to avoid paying a proper amount of child support.

Once the court has determined both parties' incomes, it will then perform a calculation based on the Pennsylvania child support guidelines. The calculation takes into consideration factors which include the combined adjusted net income of both parents, the number of children involved, the division of custodial time between each parent (i.e., whether both parents enjoy "substantial custodial time" with the children), each parent's contribution to child care or daycare expenses, contributions to healthcare expenses, and any contributions to the costs of extracurricular activities. It is important to note, however, that if the one or both of the parents is a high income earner resulting in a combined net income in excess of $30,000 per month, there is a more complex, sophisticated method for calculating child support.

Under special circumstances, the guideline amount for support may be adjusted. For example, the court may award an upward deviation, increasing the child support award, if the obligor parent has a low income but has access to significant wealth. This may occur if the obligor parent has no personal income but is married to someone with a high income or if the obligor parent is retired and lives off his or her savings. In the alternative, the court may award a downward deviation, decreasing the child support award, if the obligor parent is obligated to pay child support for another child not involved in the support hearing or if the guideline amount of child support will cause the obligor parent's net income to fall below the poverty level as determined by the Commonwealth.

Given the complexity of determining a potential award of child support, it is always recommended that someone faced with a claim for child support secure legal counsel. The attorneys of Wolf, Baldwin and Associates, P.C. understand that securing an accurate award of child support is important to both parents. In support matters, we work hard to compassionately listen your unique circumstances and needs. An accurate child support award ensures that the children receive reasonable and proper support. As a result, we will take the time to thoroughly review with you the process, the interplay between the guidelines and the facts of your case, and to help you prepare your child support hearing. We invite your to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced child support lawyers today.