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Do you absolutely have to follow the child support guidelines?

If you live in Pennsylvania and have kids, you may have wondered how much your child support might be if you split up. You may know that Pennsylvania has a formulaic system for determining child support obligations called the Pennsylvania Child Support Guidelines.

You can find a chart of expected monthly child support amounts in the Pennsylvania Code. On that chart, you just find your family's monthly income in the left column, which is called "Combined Adjusted Net Income." Once you've found it, you match it up with the number of your children, which is listed at the top. Whatever is in that square where the income and number of children connect is your expected child support obligation or award. Simple enough, right?

They're called guidelines for a reason

If it were that easy, it wouldn't be fair -- and we mean that literally. Every family is different, and there are a variety of factors that could come into play. The child support chart is merely meant for reference: a chart would be a blunt instrument for the careful, individual analysis required.

First, each parent's adjusted net income must be calculated. This includes your pay, minus paycheck deductions, along with other income you receive, such as government benefits. There are a variety of income types, and any applying to you must be considered carefully to ensure that only the right types are included.

Once the two parents' combined adjusted net income is determined on a monthly basis, your child support amount will be affected not only by the number of children you're supporting but also by how much time you spend in custody of each child. If you spend substantial time caring for the child in question, or if you share custody, your child support amount is likely to be lower.

Even then, there are a number of circumstances where the child support recommended by the guidelines wouldn't be fair. For example, if your family income is very high, you might be expected to provide more support overall than someone with very low income. Or, if your child has special needs, he or she may require more financial support for specialty child care or medical expenses.

In the end, any child support amount will be calculated using the principles of the Pennsylvania Child Support Guidelines, but your individual situation might require a result that deviates from them.

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