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One of the more challenging issues for separated parents to resolve is arranging for child support. In Pennsylvania, provided that the parents agree, there is often no need to go to court. If one parent sues the other, though, support will be calculated according to state guidelines.
The purpose of child support.
Each parent has an obligation under the law to support his or her children. The “custodial parent” (that is, the parent with whom the children spend the majority of their time) fulfills that obligation by maintaining the household in which the children reside, by paying mortgage or rent, buying groceries, maintaining home utilities, keeping the car running, etc. The “noncustodial parent” usually supports the children by paying a certain amount of money each month into the custodial household according to a set of child support guidelines.
There can be frustrations for both the parent who has to pay, and the parent who gets the payment. The first might question whether the money is actually being used directly for the children, and the other might wonder how to meet the needs of active, growing children even with the support money. All of this can create tension for the children if their parents are careless, especially when one or both parents make the mistake of discussing support woes with them or — worse — trying to enlist them in an effort to influence the other parent. Too many children have to listen to statements like, “Your father the cheapskate would rather spend money on his girlfriend,” or “Talk to your mother if you want that; that’s what I pay support for.” Try not to go there.
The Pennsylvania child support guidelines.
When parents go to court, their net monthly income or earning capacity is determined and then child support is calculated by a formula using a guideline chart to determine the presumed correct amount. As you explore the chart, please realize that the guideline is only a starting point. The support number that you end up with can be affected by many considerations such as children of other relationships, certain expenses, and other factors. Please note particularly that when a noncustodial parent has a high percentage of custody time that can reduce his or her monthly obligation, and that an equally-shared custody arrangement also has an effect. Consulting with a family law attorney can help you ensure that you are taking everything into account.
The Pennsylvania Child Support Program website offers a PA child support calculator. As with any online resource (including this one!), use your best discretion and judgment.
Child Support is based on net income.
Usually, this means starting with your annual gross income (or earning capacity), and deducting only income tax obligations (Federal, Social Security/Medicare, state and municipal), union dues, and mandatory retirement contributions. If you don’t want to work from “ballpark” numbers, here are some handy resources I have found to help you with your calculations:
Jim Lange’s 2018-2019 Tax Planning Card
Simple tax calculator (including municipalities)
2017 Earned Income Credit chart (scroll to page 31 for the actual chart)
Pennsylvania Tax Forgiveness tables
Easy taxes to calculate:
Social Security/Medicare in 2017 is 7.65% of gross annual income below $118,500.
Pennsylvania Income Tax in 2017 is 3.07% of gross annual income.
Pittsburgh municipal wage tax for city residents in 2017 is 3% of gross annual income.
Wage tax is 1% of gross annual income for: Edgewood, Fox Chapel, Homestead, McKees Rocks, Monroeville, Munhall, Murrysville, Oakmont, Swissvale and Verona.
Wage tax is 1.3% of gross annual income for: Mt. Lebanon
Wage tax is 1.75% of gross annual income for: Penn Hills
Calculating basic guideline support.
Note: in Pennsylvania, the person paying support is called the “obligor.” The person receiving support is the “obligee.”
1. Add both parents’ net monthly incomes to get a combined income total.
2. Divide the obligor’s net monthly income by the total from number 1, above. This will give you the obligor’s share of the combined income total.
3. Using the leftmost column of the guideline chart, find your combined income total, and then move to the right, to the column for the correct number of children. This is your combined basic child support obligation.
4. Multiply the combined basic child support obligation by the obligor’s share of the parents’ combined income from number 2, above, to get the obligor’s basic monthly child support obligation.
Example: Let’s assume that there are two children, that Father is the obligor and is earning $2,600 net per month, and that Mother is earning $2,200 net per month. Step 1: We add the two incomes to get a combined total income of $4,800. Step 2: We divide Father’s income of $2,600 by the total, and see that he is making about 0.54 (or 54%) of the combined total income. Step 3: According to the guideline chart, the combined basic child support obligation for two children with a combined total income of $4,800 is $1,325. Step 4: Multiplying that total figure by Father’s share of 0.54 yields his basic monthly child support obligation of $716.
Some helpful information.
Cost of medical insurance. If the obligor is maintaining medical insurance for the children at a cost, he or she should get a discount in basic child support obligation equal to the obligee’s proportionate share of the expense attributable to the children. If the obligee is the one maintaining insurance, there is a similar increase in the monthly support obligation. If the children’s share of the expense is not known, the total monthly cost of insurance can be divided by the number of people covered under the policy, and then multiplied by the number of children being supported.
Unreimbursed medical expenses. Usually, the obligee is held responsible for the first $250 per child, per calendar year, in medical expenses that insurance does not cover (such as copayments). After that threshold is reached, unreimbursed medical expenses usually are divided between the parties proportionately to their respective incomes. Keeping good records of expenses and payment is essential.
Child care costs. Usually, child care expenses that are necessary to enable a parent to maintain employment are considered to be the responsibility of both parents, and will be apportioned between them proportionately to their respective incomes in addition to the basic child support obligation.
Support arrears. In Pennsylvania, child support awards made through the court usually have two components: current support, and payment against any arrears. Arrears can accrue because a support obligation is awarded retroactively to the date of the obligee’s claim, or because the obligor did not pay as ordered.
Earning capacity. Sometimes, a parent can be treated as if he or she earns more than he or she is earning from employment. An earning capacity can be assigned, for example, in cases where a parent has chosen not to work (or works “off the books”) to avoid paying support.
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