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A Brief Introduction to Child Support

Divorce is a messy business, and when you add in the issues you will have with child custody and support, it gets considerably more complicated. Fighting for custody is one battle, but after the courts have determined that, you must then decide how child support will be dealt.

Economically, a family cannot have the same standard of living apart as it can together. After divorce, both parties must make sacrifices to avoid financial disaster. Both parents have a legal duty to support their children as they are able to. Pennsylvania family law courts have developed guidelines which assist judges in calculating child support based on each parent’s income. These guidelines are applied unless there is a reason it would be inappropriate to do so.

Establishing Child Support Payments

A decision for child support can be reached amicably, or by fighting it out in front of a judge. Child support orders have several parts.

  • They require a direct monetary payment to the custodial parent. This should not be confused with alimony, which is also a direct payment, because these payments are solely for the vital needs of the children such as food, rent, and clothing.
  • The courts retain jurisdiction to change the order. Child support orders may need to be changed according to the needs of the child, or the financial situation of the parent. They are not set in stone for eternity, but flexible.
  • Payments do not last forever. In fact, the payments are over when the child reach majority (age 18), dies, or becomes emancipated. Occasionally, courts will require a parent to continue payments through college, but only if it does not impose a hardship on the parents.

Determining the Amount of Child Support

Child support payments are to be used only for vital expenses such as food, shelter, clothing, education, and medical care. However, since each child is different, the courts will look at the various needs of each child in determining the amount of a payment.

  • Medical needs of the child. If the child is disabled in any way that would require extra care, their payments will be higher.
  • Age of the child. Typically young children and infants are less expensive to support than older children.
  • Financial position of noncustodial parent. This is determined by the total income of the noncustodial parent, and can even include a new spouse’s earnings.
  • Financial position of custodial parent. Since both parents have the duty to support their children, the financial ability of the custodial parent is also taken into consideration.

Both parties are required to submit a financial statement of their abilities to the court in order to assist them in determining a fair amount of child support. These documents include all sources of income, property, and lawful financial obligations. The courts will not reduce child support payments to make it easier for a parent to pay discretionary obligations. This means, they cannot donate to a charity or buy an unnecessary expensive item at the expense of providing for their children.

Child support hearings are often argumentative, and sometimes require mediation. Although it is an emotionally charged issue, it is best to stay calm and consider what would be the best option for your children. An attorney will help you sift through the paperwork and understand your options as a custodial or noncustodial parent so that your children are taken care of and your interests are protected as well.