Divorce is a significant life change. It comes with many questions, especially for parents and for high earners. You want your children to have their financial needs met, but you also do not want to pay an unnecessary amount in child support. If you want to know how child support will impact your divorce and your earnings going forward, you should speak to a Pennsylvania divorce attorney. In the meantime, this FAQ may have answers to some of your most pressing questions.
How Do Courts Determine Child Support?
Child support is required in all 50 states to ensure that parents provide for the needs of their children, whether they live with them or are married to the other parent or not. As per the federal Child Support Enforcement Act, each state has developed guiding principles to calculate a range of child support to be paid, based on the parents’ respective incomes and expenses. Pennsylvania courts determine child support using a variety of factors. These factors include:
- The needs of the children
- The child’s standard of living before divorce or separation
- The parent’s income and ability to pay
- Debts and regular payments owed by the parents
- Spousal support
- Other financial elements
When either parent is a high earner, child support payments are generally more when compared to other families where parents earn less.
What Does the Court Consider Income?
Family courts consider gross income from all sources when calculating child support, less mandatory deductions such as income taxes, Social Security, health care, and mandatory union dues. This means they look at the net income. It is important to note that credit union payments, wage attachments, and similar financial obligations are not subtracted when calculating net income for child support.
In Pennsylvania, the high-income provision is a $30,000 joint month net income. For couples who exceed this provision, a unique formula is used to determine how much child support will be paid. This formula provides a fixed percentage to calculate child support. Once this calculation is determined, the court will consider the following factors:
- Childcare expenses
- Private school tuition
- Summer camp
- Extracurricular activities
- Mortgage adjustment
Then the court will make any adjustments for deviation factors such as:
- Unusual needs and unusual fixed obligations,
- Other support obligations of the parties
- Other income in the household
- Ages of the children
- Relative assets and liabilities of the parties
- Medical expenses not covered by insurance
- Standard of living of the parties and children
- Other relevant factors
Can Potential for Earning Be Considered When Calculating Child Support?
When determining child support amounts, judges will usually look at what the parent has the potential to make as well as what they are actually earning. If there is a discrepancy between the two, the judge may order a higher amount of child support.
Actual earnings are not the end-all if a parent could earn more, but they choose not to. Judges usually place more importance on the financial needs of the children and meeting those; therefore, their decision will be made based on the children’s current needs and not the parent’s career plans and desires.
For example, if you leave a high-paying job for a lower wage job that you enjoy more or you leave a high-paying job to go to school to make a career change, these are not excuses to not pay for your child’s financial needs. Although, by hiring a well-versed Pennsylvania divorce attorney, you could receive an order for child support that is fair to both you and your child’s other parent.
Do Custody Arrangements Impact Child Support?
Yes, the physical custody of the child has a tremendous impact on how child support is determined. In cases where one parent has full custody, their child support is considered part of their custody. The parent who does not have custody will be legally required to pay child support for the care and well-being of the child.
When both parents share physical custody, child support is based on how much money each parent earns and how much time the child spends with each parent. If you are a high-earning parent who does not have custody of their child or who shares custody, you can expect to pay more in child support than parents who have more physical custody or who make less.
Can Child Support Orders Be Amended?
While the courts craft child support orders to be permanent, they do understand that circumstances can change that may warrant a change in the child support orders. Under limited circumstances, they do allow parents to submit a petition to have it changed. These circumstances usually include:
- A child’s medical emergency
- A temporary inability to pay child support from an illness or other economic burden
- A short term financial or medical hardship on the part of the recipient parent
- Additional income from the remarriage of either parent
- A job change of either parent
- Disability of either parent
- A change in the needs of the child
If you need to have your child support amount adjusted, it is best to contact a divorce attorney in Pennsylvania. An attorney could determine if your situation warrants asking the court for a change and, if it does, the best strategy to obtain one. Ideally, you and your ex-spouse could negotiate a new child support amount and present it to the court for approval. If you cannot work out an agreement, the court will have to do it for you, which can result in an outcome that nobody likes.
Child Support Help from an Experienced Pennsylvania Divorce Attorney
Divorce is messy, especially when children are involved. It can also be costly. You want your children to be provided for and well-cared for, but you do not want to pay more than you should have to in child support to your ex-spouse. Our experienced attorneys could help ensure that you do not pay more than you should be to support your children.
To get personalized answers to your child support questions, contact Petrelli Previtera, LLC today at (215) 523-6900, chat with a live agent, or schedule your consultation online.