For a resident of Pennsylvania who is contemplating a divorce and who has minor children, the issue of child support can be one of the most stress producing questions that must be answered. The basic rules are set forth in the state’s statutes where they can be read by anybody. A review of the basic elements of the child support calculation can go a long way to reducing the anxiety that many parents face when they contemplate this issue.
The general rule is simple: child support is based upon the parents’ monthly net income. However, applying this rule to a specific situation can require a number of adjustments. In calculating monthly net income, the court must consider several factors, including:
- Wages, salaries, bonuses, fees and commissions;
- Net income from a business or property;
- Interest, rents, royalties and dividends;
- Pensions and retirement payments;
- Income from an estate or trust;
- Social Security disability benefits;
- Alimony; and
- All other entitlements to monthly payments or lump sum awards, including income tax refunds, lottery winnings and insurance settlements or compensation.
The rule that sets forth these considerations is followed in the regulations by a lengthy table that prescribes a monthly allowance for a single parent that is based on the number of children and the parent’s monthly income.
Setting the monthly support
The finder-of-fact, whether it’s a judge, jury or referee, has discretion to deviate from the prescribed amounts, but in so doing, the finder-of-fact must cite evidence that justifies the decision. For example, the court may set a lower amount as the monthly amount if the payee is expected to receive a large one-time payment in the near future. Conversely, the monthly allowance can be increased if the custodial parent suffers from a medical disability that limits the ability to earn an income.
Anyone facing a divorce may learn useful information by consulting an experienced divorce lawyer. A knowledgeable family lawyer can evaluate the individual situation and provide a helpful estimate of whether the court is likely to follow the guidelines or change the prescribed guidelines.