When two parents no longer live together, the primary custodial parent, or the parent who has the children for more than 50% of overnights in a 2 week period, is entitled to child support. When the parents have "shared custody," meaning it is 50%-50%, the parent who makes less money is entitled to child support.
The first step is the filing of a complaint for child support at the Domestic Relations Office. A support conference will be scheduled with a DRO conference officer. Both parents have the right to be represented by an attorney, and both parties will be directed to bring paystubs, tax returns, medical insurance cards, documentation of expenses for the children, daycare costs, tuition expenses, and other relevant information.
At the conference, the conference officer will take the information from both parties regarding their income and expenses, utilizing the documents provided. Once the conference officer gathers all of the information, it will be input into the cumputer system in the conference room. The computer will then come up with what's called a "Guideline" number for support. But how does that work?
Pennsylvania has set forth a large table of Child Support guidelines. The numbers in the chart reflect what the Court believes it would take to support the amount of Children involved in the case if the parties still lived together. Here's a link to the guidelines: PA Support Guidelines
To calculate the guideline amount, the first step is to get the monthly net income of both parties. That is what each party makes per month, subtracting out withheld taxes and other mandatory withholdings. The monthly incomes are then combined, and then you take the guideline chart and figure out the Total Support Amount for the amount of children involved. The amount then gets allocated to each parent based upon the amount of income each party makes in the equation. And that's how you get the base support amount.
Sound confusing? Let me give you an example:
Mom and Dad split up, and Mom has primary custody of the 2 kids. Dad makes $4,000 monthly net, and Mom makes $2,000 monthly net. Using the guidelines for 2 children at $6,000 combined income, the Total Support Amount would be $1,523. Dad makes 66% of the combined income, and Mom makes 34%. Dad would therefore owe Mom a base support amount of $1,005. That amount would go up or down slightly, based upon how much time Dad has with the children, or what expenses he and Mom pay for the kids.
For the most part, child support is just plugging numbers into a formula. However, there are certain benefits to having an attorney at your side during a Domestic Relations conference. There are some expenses you may not be aware qualify you for a reduction or increase in support; there are some questions that could be asked of the other party to discover hidden income; and, there is always room for negotiating a support amount and coming to an agreement for a number that is different from the guidelines.
We at Chan & Associates handle all aspects of support cases. We regularly deal with child support and spousal support cases, all the way from the conference level to complex support hearings at the Court of Common Pleas. Call us if you need representation in a support case.