As parents getting a divorce in Pennsylvania, you're probably worried sick about what your divorce will do to your kids.
Emotionally and financially.
You love your children and want the best for them. But you're concerned your divorce is going to make it harder for them to get the financial support they need in order to live healthy and happy lives.
That’s where the Pennsylvania child support guidelines come in.
And there's a lot more to know about PA child support than you might think.
What is the purpose of Pennsylvania child support payment?
Some parents think the purpose of child support in PA is simply to cover the costs associated with raising their children post-divorce.
But child support is about more than just money.
While it's true that child support payments are designed to ensure your children's financial well-being, that's only half of it.
After your divorce is finalized, you'll no longer be husband and wife, but you’ll always be parents to your kids. And the last thing you'll want your children doing is worrying about having to drop out of extracurricular activities, missing out on summer camp, or wondering whether they'll be able to go to college.
So child support also demonstrates to your kids that you love them and care about their emotional well-being, too.
There are a few things you need to know about the challenges of determining PA child support payments:
While there are Pennsylvania child support guidelines, it can (and is often) deviated from, it doesn’t include all the expenses required to raise a child, and it isn’t applicable in all situations or circumstances.
We continue to see the devastating effects of the global pandemic in 2022, making economic uncertainty likely to continue throughout the year.
Inflation was 6.8% in 2021, but since the PA Child Support Guidelines are only updated every four years, what you receive in child support in-between updates, and what you need, can differ greatly.
In 2022, Pennsylvania updated its guidelines, and depending on your combined monthly income, and the number of children you have, your child support could increase as much as 25% as the state tries to "catch up" vis a vis the cost of living.
This topic has less to do with Pennsylvania child support law and more to do with money, negotiation, and as parents, doing what’s best for your kids.
There is more than meets the eye on this issue and in the majority of cases, this subject is much too complex for you to try to resolve on your own.
The PA child support guideline is a guideline, not a formula.
All 50 states are required to have a systematic way by which to determine child support. So every state including PA has a child support guideline. But the way child support is determined varies from state to state.
Some states use a simple percentage-based formula. You’d simply take a share of the supporting party’s income and make payment to the other party and you’re done.
While some states, like Pennsylvania, use more of a comprehensive guideline. PA child support is determined using the "Income Shares" model.
The income shares model attempts to take into account a number of factors including:
The number of overnights the children spend with each of you; and
The ages of your children.
The guidelines are run and a basic child support obligation is outputted.
But even when using the guideline, determining Pennsylvania child support isn't as easy as you might expect.
Determining PA child support is more complex than it seems.
Because there are a number of issues you'll face when using the PA child support guidelines "as-is."
First is the issue of the number generated by the guideline. This amount is presumed to be appropriate in all cases. But it’s a lot more expensive to raise children in some parts of Pennsylvania such as Philadelphia or Pittsburgh than it is in other parts such as Lancaster County, for example.
Yet the same guideline is used state-wide!
So while the guideline may output an amount, you may still choose to deviate from it. And deciding whether it should go up or down can be a point of contention among divorcing couples.
What each of your shares of the division of your marital assets and liabilities will be per the terms of your settlement;
If either or both spouses have other support obligations to a third-party;
How old your children are;
If either or both spouses have a source of income other than what is reported on your paychecks or W-2’s;
Other non-marital assets and liabilities one or both spouses may own or owe;
If the children have any extraordinary medical costs not covered by health insurance;
What the standard of living was for the children during your marriage, and
The always popular and eternally vague “any other factors deemed relevant including the best interests of the child.”
Then there’s the issue of which parent pays child support.
Typically, the parent with whom the children spend less time will be the party to pay child support.
But what if that's the parent who is also earning less?
Is it fair that this parent should have to pay child support based on what the guideline states even if it creates a financial hardship for that party?
Can one parent waive child support on behalf of the children? And does that excuse the non-custodial parent from any financial obligations associated with the kids?
So while you might think you simply run the Pennsylvania child support guidelines and use the number calculated, it’s not even close. The reality is that the number isn’t a hard and fast formula, but rather, a suggestion.
And it’s just a starting point for negotiation.
From there, it’s up to the parties to negotiate an agreement that’s in the best interests of their children and that both spouses find fair.
Which is not always so easy to do.
Especially if one of you lives in a high-cost area such as Bryn Mawr or Newtown!
A lot is left out of the PA Child Support Guidelines.
So far, we've talked about how the guidelines output a basic support obligation that one party may wind up paying to the other.
And it's based on a number of factors including your incomes, the number of overnights the kids spend with each of you and their ages.
But even when you run the Pennsylvania child support guidelines, there are still a number of other expenses that aren’t covered in the basic support obligation.
PlayStations, X-Boxes, and Nintendo's;
We refer to these as “extraordinary" expenses.
And as a parent, you know these types of expenses can be quite significant! Especially when your kid just has to have the new PlayStation 99 or is the next budding 1st baseman for the Phillies.
Extraordinary expenses must be discussed and negotiated separately to ensure your children get the complete financial support they need and deserve.
Starting to see why that PA child support calculator you found free on the Internet isn't helpful in determining child support?
There are other items that must be discussed surrounding child support in PA.
In addition to the standard as well as extraordinary costs associated with raising children, you and your spouse will also need to discuss and come to an agreement on:
Which party will pay for their health care coverage;
Who takes the kids as a tax deduction;
Whether or not to get life insurance to cover the children's expenses should one party pre-decease the other before the kids are emancipated;
How to pay for college;
And how long child support will last as depending on your unique circumstances or situation, it may continue on past the normal age of emancipation.
Suddenly, the PA child support guidelines aren't so comprehensive!
The Pennsylvania child support guidelines aren’t applicable in all situations.
In order for the PA child support guideline to be applied "as-is," your income and your spouse’s income must be predictable from month to month and year to year.
So if one or both parties earn more of their compensation from bonuses, commissions, or stock options, the guidelines simply won’t work.
And if your income falls below or above certain limits, you can't use the guidelines, either.
Meaning if you and your spouse collectively earn more or less than a set amount of income per year, the guidelines also won’t work. And that's just one more example of why it’s called a child support guideline and not a child support formula.
In either case, you’ll have no choice but to skip the guidelines and negotiate instead.
Which is not always so easy to do.
In Pennsylvania, when the law gets involved, it’s a problem.
There’s something you need to understand here: In a litigated PA divorce, a family law judge in court determines child support.
Sounds scary, doesn’t it?
Because the judge will dictate the terms of the settlement by court order and both spouses might wind up with something they don’t think is fair or that doesn’t appropriately meet the needs of their children.
That’s why it’s better to negotiate this issue out of Pennsylvania court and that’s exactly what mediation is all about.
In mediation, you get to decide - and come to an agreement that puts your children first and you both agree is fair, instead of letting your future be decided by a stranger in a courtroom.
You’ll get the best result by mediating with us.
Child support issues will vary based on your situation and circumstances.
And as you’ve learned, there is more than meets the eye on this topic. So don't risk putting your children's financial future in jeopardy by trying to resolve child support on your own.
Using our extensive financial knowledge of the complex matters of child support in PA, we’ll help you and your spouse determine an amount that accurately reflects the specialized needs of your children.
One that covers all ordinary, extraordinary, and future expenses.
We’ll talk about who your children are, what they like to do, and what it will take to make sure they’re getting what they need and deserve. Not just what some guideline says you have to pay so they can “get by.”
We’ll work through specialized cases like child support in which you share in the care of your children equally. As that type of support has its own unique method for determination.
We’ll help you negotiate any issues of disagreement and create an agreement you both find fair and equitable regarding the support of your children.
We’ll also make sure you and your spouse not only come to an agreement that you both find to be fair, but also one that minimizes tax issues, avoids penalties, and improves cash flow whenever possible.
Because no two situations are alike.
Your children are unique and your child support agreement should reflect that, too.
Why be forced to accept a child support order dictated by a judge in family court when you can create an agreement that works for your children now and into the future instead?
If you want to make decisions as parents, not as litigants, do what’s best for your kids and mediate your no fault PA divorce with Equitable Mediation.
Joe Dillon, MBA is a professional divorce mediator and founder of Equitable Mediation Services. Joe is passionate about helping couples avoid the destruction of attorney-driven litigation and specializes in helping couples resolve the issues required for divorce -peacefully, fairly and cost-effectively. When he’s not mediating, you can find him exercising, cooking, and watching Cubs baseball.