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It is a sad fact in our society that children often suffer the most from the separation and divorce of their parents. However, a child’s biological parents still have a legal obligation to financially support the child, regardless of whether the child’s parents were ever married. That obligation generally exists until the child reaches “the age of majority,” or becomes emancipated. At Fisher & Fisher Law Offices we have accumulated three decades of experience helping our clients to negotiate and obtain the child support to which they are entitled in Monroe, Wayne, Pike, Luzerne, Lackawanna, Carbon, and Northampton Counties.
When parents divorce or are not married, the non-custodial parent is often obligated to pay child support. Support is owed whether the child lives with his or her other parent or a third party, and whether or not the custodial parent can afford to support the child without assistance. In some instances, support may be owed even where the parents equally share physical custody.
Pennsylvania has adopted guidelines for determining child support obligations. Courts use these guidelines to establish the amount of support. Additional provisions for medical costs and insurance are generally added to the basic amount calculated under the state guidelines. For the vast majority of parents in Pennsylvania, child support is determined by the formula set forth in the Pennsylvania Support Guidelines. This formula provides the basic child support obligation, based on the total monthly net income of the parties and the number of children. Each parent’s support obligation will be a percentage of that total figure, based on the parents’ relative incomes. The guidelines only consider the parents’ income, and the parties’ expenses are not generally considered in calculating the support obligation, unless a parent has what is considered to be an “extraordinary expense.” In addition to the basic support obligation, other expenses, such as child care, summer camp, and medical expenses, are usually shared by the parties.
If you need help with child support issues, call the experienced family law attorneys at Fisher & Fisher Law Offices for a free consultation.
When Does Child Support Begin?
Child support payments generally begin when a Court enters an order requiring the payment of support, and may be ordered at any stage of the divorce proceedings. The parties may voluntarily agree on the amount of support. When parents have never married, the custodial parent may petition for support from the other parent. In connection with that proceeding, DNA tests may be necessary to establish paternity.
Can Child Support be Altered?
Child support orders can be modified to meet changing needs in the parents’ or the child’s life. Either parent can petition the court for a modification of the support obligation. The Court will then determine whether there has been a significant and material change in circumstances either concerning the child’s needs or the payor parent’s ability to financially meet his or her obligations. Parents receiving child support may be able to increase the support they receive when the payor parent’s income increases, or where the child has specific needs, for example, tutoring or educational expenses, medical treatment or therapy. Payor parents may be able to decrease the amount of future support payments if they lose their job, suffer a reduction in income or when the custodial parent’s income increases. Federal law prohibits states from forgiving past due child support payments. Courts are reluctant to reduce child support awards, and payor parents may have an earning capacity imputed to them, whether or not their actual earnings reflect that amount.
Non-payment of Child Support
Parents must meet their child support obligations. Those who do not pay child support, pay less than is required, or pay sporadically, may be subject to contempt proceedings, fines and even imprisonment. Contempt proceedings are one of the most common actions taken against parents who fail to pay child support. During this process, the payor parent is charged with failing to comply with a court order. These proceedings can be civil or criminal.
In civil proceedings, the parent can be ordered to serve an indefinite period in jail until he or she pays the support that is owed. Upon paying the support arrearages, the parent is released from jail. In criminal contempt proceedings, the parent is sentenced to a set amount of time in jail as punishment for failing to comply with the order. The parent cannot pay the back support to shorten his or her jail sentence. The key to holding a parent in contempt of a child support order is finding that the parent has the ability to pay child support, but willfully failed to do so. Parents who do not have the ability to pay their support obligation may have a successful defense to a contempt proceeding if they can prove that they genuinely could not pay.
Collecting Child Support
Parents who owe child support arrearages may also be subject to wage garnishment. The Court can order an employer to withhold a certain percentage out of an employee’s paycheck each pay period to meet his or her child support obligations. Tax refunds and lottery winnings can also be subject to garnishment.
Federal and state governments have taken action to punish those parents who cross state lines in an effort to escape their support obligations. States are required to give full faith and credit to valid final court judgments issued in other states—including child support orders. Therefore, parents cannot seek out a new jurisdiction to gain a more favorable child support award. Under the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UIFSA), the Court who issued the child support order retains continuing exclusive jurisdiction, which means that if the parents seek to make changes to the original order, or seek to have it enforced, they must petition the Court that originally issued the order. UIFSA provides state courts with long-arm jurisdiction in case one parent relocates to another jurisdiction. Further, in an effort to reduce welfare costs, the federal government has passed legislation to criminalize willful failures to pay child support. Under the Child Support Recovery Act and the Deadbeat Parents Punishment Act, parents who fail to pay child support can face federal penalties, including fines and incarceration.
Enforcing the obligation to pay child support is a national priority. Federal and state laws have been enacted to make enforcement and collection of child support easier. Delinquent child support payments can put a strain on families and society as a whole. Contact a family law attorney at Fisher & Fisher to learn more about Pennsylvania child support laws. Our experienced family law attorneys can review your child support matter and help you find the best solution to meet your child’s needs.