Under PA law, child and spousal support are calculated according to a specific set of guidelines, which is based largely on the monthly net incomes and earning capacities of the parties. The guidelines help create consistency among similarly situated families.

For purposes of calculating child and spousal support, monthly net income is gross income (which includes income from any source) subtracted by required taxes, involuntarily retirement payments, union dues, and alimony paid to the other party. People are often surprised to find that many deductions that are taken out of their paychecks, such as contributions to a 401(k) plan or life insurance offered through their employer, are not allowable deductions for purposes of calculating child and spousal support.

Certain other deviations are allowed, however. For instance, if the person who is paying child support (obligor) has physical custody of the child/children overnight at least 40% of the time, they are entitled to a shared custody deviation. Other deviations may be allowed if the obligor or the obligee (the person who receives support) has any unusual needs or extraordinary expenses. Although the obligor is usually required to cover the children and the obligee (if they are still married) on health insurance if it is available at a reasonable cost, he/she is usually given some credit for the cost.

Child and spousal support is usually based on what a person actually earns, but when there is no paycheck or W-2 from which their income can be determined, they may be assessed with an earning capacity. This is often the case for people who are self-employed, have fluctuating income, or people who have been fired for cause from a job. In making a determination of earning capacity, the trier of fact considers many factors, such as the work history, education, and childcare responsibilities of that particular person. For instance, if a child support obligor was fired from a job for cause (or quit a job), it is possible that the child and/or spousal support obligation will be calculated based on that person having an earning capacity consistent with what he or she was making at the job they quit or were fired from. Sometimes one of the parties does not work outside the home in order to take care of children. If the children are of school age, that person will likely be assessed with an earning capacity.

Child support ends at age 18, or upon graduation from high school, or emancipation, whichever is last. PA courts will not impose an obligation to pay support for college students, although they will enforce out-of-court agreements to pay college support.

After a husband and wife have separated, but before a divorce is filed, the lesser earning spouse can file for spousal support. Like child support, spousal support is based on the guidelines, but relatively simpler to calculate once the net incomes or earning capacities of the parties have been determined. Where there are no children, spousal support is 40% of the difference in the parties’ net incomes. Where there are children, the child support obligation is first subtracted from the parties’ combined net incomes, and then the spousal support is 30% of the difference. The obligor may allege some “entitlement” defenses in defending a claim against spousal support, however. For instance, the obligor could argue that the obligee is not entitled to spousal support because the obligee was unfaithful, or there was some instance of fraud.

The law requires that both parties notify the court (and the other party to a support order) within 7 days if there is any change in their addresses, their employment, or any other change in circumstances related to the level of support, or the administration of the support order. If your support order is several years old, or if any of your children have graduated from high school, you may want to modify the order. However, the law provides that if you request modification and your income has increased, your support order may increase, even if you requested a decrease!

We at Shah Law Group have up-to-date information about child and spousal support guidelines, including a computer program to calculate support obligations; if we have accurate income information, we can calculate a support obligation during your initial consultation with our firm.

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