October 27, 2006

Child Support Obligations

The law requires parents to provide support for their children who are unemancipated and eighteen (18) years of age and younger. Additionally, unique circumstances may require a parent to provide support for a child who is over eighteen (18) years of age, such as with a child who has a physical or mental condition that exists as of the time the child reaches the age of majority and prevents the child from being self-supportive. To determine if an order of support for an adult child is appropriate, the test is whether the child is physically and mentally able to engage in profitable employment and whether employment is available to that child at a supporting wage. Additionally, absent an agreement to the contrary, there is currently no obligation for parents to pay post secondary educational expenses (college expenses) for their children.

A child support action may be brought by: 1) a person to whom a duty of support is owed; 2) on behalf of a minor child by a person having custody of the child; 3) on behalf of a minor child by a person caring for the child regardless of whether a court order has been issued granting that person custody; 4) by a public body or private agency having an interest in the case, maintenance or assistance of a person to whom a duty of support is owing; or 5) by a parent, guardian or private or public agency on behalf of an unemancipated child over eighteen (18) years of age to whom a duty of support is owing.

An action for child support is commenced by filing a complaint with the domestic relations section of the court. The person filing for child support is often referred to as the payee while the person who has a support obligation is often called the payor. An action may be brought in the county in which the defendant (the payor) resides, the county in which the defendant (the payor) is regularly employed, or the county in which the child resides. If the defendant (the payor) resides outside of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a support order entered in Pennsylvania may be enforced pursuant to the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act.

There are uniform guidelines used throughout the state to determine a support obligation. These guidelines use the combined adjusted monthly net income of the payor and the payee as well as the number of children for whom support is sought. Monthly net income for support purposes includes, but is not limited to, income such as wages, income from businesses, rents, pensions, Social Security disability and retirement benefits, workers’ compensation and unemployment compensation. Net income is determined by deducting federal, state and local income tax, FICA payments and non-voluntary retirement payments, union dues and alimony paid to other parties from each party’s gross income. A party’s monthly net income used for calculation of a support obligation may not be identical to the party’s monthly pay checks due to voluntary payments deducted from a party’s pay by an employer.

Other factors may affect the amount of child support paid by the payor, such as substantial or shared custody held by the payor or a spousal support obligation owed by the payee. Furthermore, there may be reasons for a support obligation to deviate from the guideline amount, such as where there are unusual needs and unusual fixed obligations, other support obligations of the parties or other income in the household, to name a few.

In addition to basic child support, a payor may also have an obligation to contribute to the reasonable child care expenses paid by the payee, health insurance premiums for the child(ren), unreimbursed medical expenses of the child(ren), private school tuition, summer camp or other needs of the child that are not specifically addressed by the guidelines.

What It Means to You

Child support can be modified and cannot be waived by the parties. Contact a member of Cipriani & Werner’s domestic relations group for further information regarding support actions in Pennsylvania.