Child Support in Pennsylvania

An overview of Pennsylvania child support laws with answers to common child support questions.

Pennsylvania Child Support

Significant changes were enacted regarding Pennsylvania support guidelines on January 1, 2022.  If you’re dealing with a child support issue, here’s how the new guidelines affect you, plus other important information you must know.

What to Know About Pennsylvania’s Updated Child Support Guidelines

Both parents are responsible for supporting their children in Pennsylvania.  On January 1, 2022, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court enacted new child support guidelines that will probably impact each parent’s obligation and rights.

For example, the new Pennsylvania Child Support Guidelines reject child support reductions based on expected or temporary earning fluctuations. In addition, if the paying parent encounters a situation outside their control, like an illness, layoff, or termination, the guidelines support a reduction in payment for child support.

You’ll pay more for child support under the new guidelines.  How much more depends on your combined income level.

Generally, as your income and number of children increases, so will your child support. For instance, with a $20,000 monthly combined income, support payments increased 22% or an additional $1,550 per month for a 2022 total of $3890 for one child.

Here’s a closer look at the guideline’s payment adjustments:

Under previous guidelines, courts reduced child support by 30% for assumed parenting time. Now there is no presumption of custody time. That means most cases will see increases in child support.

There is also an introduction of an adjustment for more than 40% custody.  The state recognizes that the more time you have the children, the greater your expenses.

The Supreme Court addressed earning capacity as well. A parent receives no income adjustments if they took a lower-paying job to counter a support obligation. The same idea applies to a parent who leaves or changes employment voluntarily or for cause.

Earning capacity applies only to one full-time job. So only one full-time job counts if you work at more than one job.

Courts must now include reasonable childcare responsibilities and expenses with earning capacity. And earning capacity now considers child care expenses. Additional payments also apply to parents for costs relating to education, extracurricular, or developmental activities as long as the expense is reasonable under each parent’s circumstances.

Pennsylvania courts do not automatically grant child support increases with these updated guidelines. A parent must file a child support modification request and obtain a new child support order.

How is Child Support Determined in Pennsylvania?

Pennsylvania Child Support Guidelines are a fee schedule of basic child support obligations. Although a court presumes that the number given by the guidelines is the appropriate amount when paying child support, a judge could deviate from the guidelines and decrease or increase the amount of child support.

That decision is based on the following factors:

  • unusual needs and unusual fixed obligations
  • other support obligations
  • other household income
  • the child’s age
  • the relative assets and liabilities of the parents
  • medical expenses not covered by insurance
  • standard of living, and
  • other factors, including the best interests of the child.

While these factors may support an adjustment, other expenses impact support payments. For example, parents remain responsible for the cost of childcare, private school, and the child’s health insurance.

Calculating Support

Support is based on the child’s reasonable needs and the parent’s ability to pay.

Pennsylvania Courts of Common Pleas determine child support obligations based on the Pennsylvania Support Guideline. The Support Guideline is in Rule 1910.16 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure. The guideline assumes that a child of separated or divorced parents should receive the same proportion of parental income as if the parents were together.

A judge will calculate child support amounts using a somewhat complicated formula. The most significant factors are each parent’s income, daycare expenses, the cost of medical insurance, any Social Security benefits the child may be receiving, and the children’s living arrangements. A judge will automatically review the support amount every four years.

What is the Child Support Estimator?

The Child Support Estimator lets you estimate your monthly child support amount based on the custodial and noncustodial parent’s gross income, taxes, and expenses. The estimate indicates how much support you might receive or pay.

It does not include a calculation for alimony pendente lite and spousal support or combined child support and spousal support/alimony pendente lite orders.

Go here to access the Child Support Estimator. Mobile users can access the Child Support Estimator through the Self-Service feature.

To complete an estimate, you need to know how many children you want to receive child support, the gross income for the custodial and the noncustodial parents, and the local and state tax rate.

The estimator will return more accurate results if you can also provide the monthly amount paid for child care, the amount of any alimony or spousal support received, the amount of any monthly health insurance premiums for the children, and the monthly amount of any union dues or non-voluntary retirement paid by the custodial and noncustodial parents.

Read More:  Uncontested Divorce in Pennsylvania

Factors that May Impact Child Support in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania’s guideline formula presumes the parent paying support has between 30 and 40 percent of monthly time in the custody schedule.  When the paying parent spends less than 30 percent of the time with the child, the receiving parent can request extra child support.

When the paying parent has at least 50 percent of parenting time, the court reduces their percentage of the combined monthly parental income by 20 percent. When they have at least 40 percent of parenting time, the court reduces it by 10 percent.

In low-income cases, the court may lower the paying parent’s obligation if the guideline amount leaves them with less than $981 monthly income.

In high-income cases, when combined monthly parental income exceeds $30,000 after deductions, the court starts with the basic obligation of $30,000, which varies by the number of children in the case, as outlined below. Then it adds a portion of the income over $30,000 to the obligation.

  • One child: $2,839 plus 8.6 percent of the combined monthly income over $30,000
  • Two children: $3,902 plus 11.8 percent
  • Three children: $4,365 plus 12.9 percent
  • Four children: $4,824 plus 14.6 percent
  • Five children: $5,306 plus 16.1 percent
  • Six children: $5,768 plus 17.5 percent

A judge can also order a parent to pay more or less than the guideline amount if qualifying circumstances, such as high medical expenses or a new spouse’s income, call for it.

There are separate formulas for cases involving more than six children or a paying parent with multiple families.

The same methods for establishing and enforcing child support orders that apply to civilians also apply to military personnel. However, the process may take longer to complete.

What happens when a child support case spans more than one state?

For custodial parents, wherever you most recently filed for services will manage your side of the child support case. If you move to a different county or state, your case does not automatically move with you. If you want to receive child support services in your new jurisdiction, you must file for services there and tell them that you have an open child support case elsewhere.

For non-custodial parents, Pennsylvania can establish paternity, a child support order, or enforce a child support order against a noncustodial parent in another state. If that’s not possible, the noncustodial parent’s state of residence will handle that portion of the case.

The DRS where the custodial parent filed for services will review the case and determine which jurisdiction will handle the noncustodial parent’s side of the case.

How is a child support order established in another state?

The DRS in the county where the custodial parent lives will ask the noncustodial parent’s resident state to establish a child support order that conforms with that state’s laws and procedures.

How does military service impact child support cases?

Before deploying or joining active duty military service, contact the DRS office that handles your support case to:

  • Inform that you will be deployed or are joining the military and how long your military commitment is
  • Provide changes in your address, wages, and healthcare coverage for your child
  • Request a review of your support case for possible modification of your support order
  • Provide information about a relative or friend who is caring for your child or assisting with your support case while you are gone

When you return from deployment or you are discharged, contact DRS to:

  • Inform that you have returned or have been discharged
  • Provide changes in your address, wages, and healthcare coverage for your children
  • Request a review of your support case for possible modification of your support order

What if a parent has support obligations in more than one household?

When a person is paying support and has other children, the court will use the support guidelines to figure out how much support the children in each household should get. If the total amount of support for the households together is more than half of the parent’s net income, then the court may reduce the amount of support.

How is child support handled if I am receiving public assistance?

If you’re receiving public assistance, the child support payments go directly to the Department of Public Welfare (DPW). Then DPW sends you a “pass-through” check for a part of the current support that was paid on time that month, up to $100 for the first child and up to $200 for two or more children.

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Child Support and Health Insurance

Pennsylvania law requires the court to determine health insurance provisions for children in every child support case.

The non-custodial parent is obligated to pay for coverage if it is reasonably priced. If this is not available, the custodial parent is obligated. If neither parent can get coverage at a reasonable cost, the custodial parent must apply for government-sponsored care, such as the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

The cost of the insurance, and any uncovered medical expenses, are divided between the parties in proportion to their net incomes after a minimum threshold is paid.

“Reasonable cost” is an amount that does not exceed 5% of the paying parent’s net monthly income.  And when added to the amount of basic child support plus additional expenses the obligor is ordered to pay, it does not exceed 50% of the obligor’s net monthly income.

If coverage is available at a reasonable cost, the employer will enroll the children in the health plan no earlier than 25 days from the issuance date of a National Medical Support Notice.

Can a parent be ordered to help with child care expenses?

Yes, reasonable child care expenses paid by either parent who needs child care to work or go to school to learn job skills can be divided in proportion to income.

How Do I Ask for Child Support?

There are several ways a parent can receive child support. Parents can make an agreement and ask a judge to approve a support order in a civil case such as a divorce or other family law proceedings.

However, most cases start by completing an Application for Child Support and submitting it to the local Domestic Relations office. You can apply online using e-services here.

To print and submit an application directly to your local DRS, you must:

It should take 30 minutes or less to complete the application.

Read More:  How To File For Divorce in Pennsylvania

Enforcing Pennsylvania Child Support Orders

Several enforcement options can occur when a parent does not pay child support.  They include:

  • Civil contempt could result in jail for up to six months, a fine of up to $500, or probation for up to six months.
  • Seizure of bank accounts through the Financial Institution Data Match (FIDM) Program, which identifies bank accounts held by noncustodial parents who owe overdue child support.
  • Seizure of any personal injury or workers’ compensation awards
  • Seizure of federal and state tax refunds through the Federal Tax Refund Offset Program and the Pennsylvania State Tax Refund Offset Program
  • Suspension of driver’s, professional, occupational, and recreational licenses (hunting and fishing)
  • Passport denial when combined arrears in all cases exceeds $2,500.
  • Liens against real property
  • Interception of lottery winnings
  • Credit bureau reporting when the noncustodial parent owes normal arrears that total at least two times the monthly support obligation.
  • Publication of your name in the newspaper as a delinquent parent

Modifying Child Support

You can file a Petition for Modification to ask the court for a change in the amount of support you pay or receive if you demonstrate a substantial and material change in circumstances.

A substantial and material change in circumstance may include:

  • Existence of additional income, income sources, or assets
  • Increases in childcare or medical coverage expenses
  • Birth of another child
  • Change in custody
  • Emancipation of child
  • Death of plaintiff receiving spousal support or alimony pendente lite
  • New guideline amounts resulting from revised guidelines or when parties have reached a private agreement
  • Incarceration
  • International relocation

The petition must be filed with the court that entered the support order or with the court of the county to which the order has been transferred.

To start the process, contact the county DRS to obtain a Petition for Modification, or log into the Child Support website and submit a Petition for Modification through E-Services.  You will receive notice from the DRS with the date, time, and place you are scheduled to attend a DRS office conference to discuss the request for modification. At the conference, the DRS will determine if your support order can be changed.

The DRS will enter a recommended support order if either party does not agree with the modified amount of support. If a party does not agree with the recommended support order, they are given 20 days to request a hearing when both sides will provide documentation to support their claims.  A final order will be entered based on that information, but not until the court reviews both parents’ current financial resources and any difference in percentage of parenting time to recalibrate the amount of support.

Child Support and Taxes

Child support payments are not deductible by the payer or taxable to the recipient. Don’t include child support payments received when you calculate your gross income.

However, you may be able to claim the child as a dependent. Generally, the custodial parent is treated as one who provides more than half of the child’s support. In some cases, the noncustodial parent may be treated as the parent who provided more than half of the child’s support.

Many agreements include a provision that each parent declares half the children as dependents when there is an even number of children. The parents alternate years claiming the child for an odd number of children. In this situation, parents may need to submit Form 8332, Release/Revocation of Release of Claim to Exemption for Child by Custodial Parent, or a substantially similar statement.

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When Does Child Support End in Pennsylvania?

In most cases, parents must pay child support until a child is 18, but there are some exceptions.

  • Support may continue after 18 if the child is still in high school.
  • Payments end when a child becomes emancipated.
  • One or both parents could be on the hook to cover the child’s undergraduate or vocational expenses after high school.
  • A court could order child support payments for a disabled child to continue past 18.

When a child is emancipated or over 18 years of age and no longer attending high school, one of the parents may file a “Petition for Modification of an Existing Support Order” to request that the child support order be stopped.

Arrears (past due support) remains an outstanding debt until paid in full, regardless of how long that takes.

Which Agency Handles Child Support in Pennsylvania?

The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services Child Support Program administers child support services in the state.

The Domestic Relations Section (DRS) that manages your child support case is the best source of information on your case. The Domestic Relations Sections (DRSs) of the county Court of Common Pleas provide child support services in Pennsylvania.

You should work through local DRS offices for most services, such as establishing an order, modification, enforcement, and other related services.

You can get all the information you need through the Pennsylvania Child Support website or by calling the Pennsylvania Child Support Helpline at 1-800-932-0211.

You will need to work with the Pennsylvania State Collections and Disbursement Unit (PA SCDU) for payment and disbursement issues.  PA SCDU collects and disburses all support payments. PA SCDU must pay support payments within 48 hours of receipt unless payment is required to be held as a matter of law.  You can call the PA State Collection and Disbursement Unit at 1-877-727-7238.

The Bureau of Child Support Enforcement (BCSE) administers the Pennsylvania Child Support Enforcement Program.  BCSE manages the program’s funding and ensures that child support orders in Pennsylvania follow federal and state child support regulations.

What happens if I don’t know where the other parent is?

If you do not know where your child’s parent lives, the DRS can help you locate them.  Give the DRS as much information as you know about the other parent, including their name, date of birth, Social Security number, phone number, employer, and any other information that can be used to conduct the search.

Establishing Paternity in Pennsylvania

A man automatically becomes the legal father of any child born to his wife during marriage.

When an unmarried woman gives birth, both parents can sign an Acknowledgement of Paternity to establish the legal father. Otherwise, the child will not have a legally recognized father.

A mother, legal father, or alleged father may open a paternity case to establish or change the legal father anytime before the child turns 18.  To start, file a Complaint to Determine Paternity with your county’s Domestic Relations Section.

The child and any potential fathers in the case will take DNA tests, and a judge will announce the biological father in a hearing.  A man proven not to be the biological father could remain the legal father if he took on the role knowing the child’s paternity was uncertain.

What are the benefits of establishing paternity?

  • Parental Rights. Establishing paternity gives both parents rights. It provides the absent parent the right to seek custody, visitation, and file to pay support.
  • Allowing the custodial parent to seek child support.
  • Family History.  The child will benefit from knowing both legal parents and relatives from each side of their family.
  • Medical Background.  The child will benefit from access to important medical backgrounds from both sides of their family.
  • Adoption.  The father of a child has the right to be notified before any adoption proceeding.
  • Inheritance.  Upon the father’s death, a child may have the right to inherit from his estate.
  • U.S. Military Benefits.  The child may be entitled to benefits as a result of the father’s service in the military.
  • Health Care Benefits (Medical Support).  If the father’s employer provides health care benefits, the father may be able to include the child under his health care plan.
  • Social Security.  The child may be eligible to receive Social Security benefits if the father becomes disabled or dies.

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