Child Support in Amicable Divorce
Frequently Asked Questions About Child Support
The Pennsylvania statewide support guidelines provide the amount of child support the obligor must pay. The obligor is the non-custodial parent (or if 50/50 custody, the parent who earns more money). The guidelines also require that certain expenses such as unreimbursed medical expenses, camp, private school, and child care for the children be divided in proportion to the incomes of the parents.
- How is Child Support Calculated?
- What Income is Used to Calculate Child Support?
- How Are the Child Support Guidelines Used to Calculate Child Support?
- What Else Must Parents Pay For Child Support?
- The Amount of Custody Time Can Change the Amount of Child Support
- How is Spousal Support Calculated?
- What is the Difference Between Spousal Support and Alimony Pendente Lite?
- What is Not Covered by the Child Support Guidelines?
- What Kinds of Extra Expenses For Their Children Might a Divorcing Couple Consider?
- Do the Parents Need to Agree to These Extra Expenses?
- When Does a Parent’s Obligation to Pay Child Support End?
- Are Divorced or Separated Parents Required to Pay For College Expenses?
- How Divorcing Parents Plan For Payment of College Expenses
- Can Divorcing Parents Save For College Expenses?
- What Happens if a Divorced Parent Cannot Pay For College Expenses?
Child support is calculated using a strict formula. The state of Pennsylvania has instituted Child Support Guidelines that allow us to actually calculate the appropriate amount of support for each family. In order to determine the appropriate amount of support for each family we need to look at the actual “chart” or guidelines. ^TOP
We need to determine the net (or “take home”) monthly pay for each parent. The “net” income is determined by examining the pay information for each parent. Income is defined using a number of different sources. It is not just someone’s base salary. It could include bonuses, commissions, second jobs, etc. Once we determine the income then we subtract standard deductions to determine the “net” or “take home” pay. Standard deductions include federal tax, state tax, city tax, FICA, etc. If someone is self-employed it becomes a little bit harder to calculate the income but the same concept is used.^TOP
How Are the Child Support Guidelines Used to Calculate Child Support?
Once we have calculated each parent’s net monthly income we now review the chart or the guidelines. We find the appropriate amount of support on the guidelines depending upon the number of children in the family and combining both parents’ net monthly incomes. For example, if one parent earns $5,000 net per month and the other parent earns $5,000 net per month then the total combined net monthly income is $10,000. If we are calculating support for two children then we then look to the chart under $10,000 for two children and see what the Pennsylvania Child Support Guidelines tell us is the appropriate monthly amount of support for that family. If the amount is $3,000 per month and each parent earns an equal amount of income then the non-custodial parent (the parent who does not have primary custody) will pay 50% of $3,000, known as his or her proportionate share. Therefore, the total monthly child support obligation for the non-custodial parent would be $1,500 per month. ^TOP
What Else Must Parents Pay For Child Support?
The basic amount of child support, in our example above $1,500, represents the “over head” expenses for the children. It does not include health insurance premiums, work or school-related child care, private school tuition or out-of-pocket health expenses over $250 per child per year. These expenses are paid IN ADDITION to the basic child support figure, $1,500. In our example above, the non-custodial parent would pay 50% of these expenses plus the $1,500. These expenses are paid in proportion to the parents’ incomes.^TOP
The Amount of Custody Time Can Change the Amount of Child Support
The basic child support amount per the guidelines can be reduced depending on the custody schedule but in order to receive any reduction the non-custodial parent must have at least 40% or more of the overnights. If the parents “share” physical custody (this means a true 50/50 split of the overnights) then the child support may be reduced significantly. If both parents earn the same amount of money and they each have 50% of the custody time, there would not be any child support obligation. When the parties combined net monthly income is less than $20,000 per month then the court will NOT consider the parties’ expenses. The court will only calculate the child support based on the Child Support Guidelines as outlined above. However, if the parents combined net monthly income exceeds $20,000 then the court will not utilize the Child Support Guidelines and the parents’ expenses and needs along with the expenses and needs of the children become relevant.^TOP
A party is eligible to receive spousal support if they are separated and the other party is not contributing to his or her expenses. Spousal support is also calculated based on a formula. It is calculated by determining each party’s net monthly income and the net monthly income of the obligor (person paying support) minus the net monthly income of the obligee (the person receiving support) multiplied by 40% is the formula used. If the obligor is ALSO obligated to pay child support then the spousal support is calculated multiplying the difference of the parties income minus the child support obligation multiplied by 30% instead of 40%.^TOP
What is the Difference Between Spousal Support and Alimony Pendente Lite?
There is a difference between spousal support and alimony pendente lite. Both are forms of support for the spouse and both are calculated the exact same way but with spousal support one does NOT need to file a divorce complaint in order to be eligible to receive it. However, there are defenses to spousal support. For example, if one spouse requests spousal support the other spouse could assert an “entitlement” defense claiming the other spouse is not eligible for some reason. Alimony pendente lite (or APL) is calculated the same way as spousal support BUT one must file a divorce complaint to be eligible BUT there are no defenses to APL so the spouse being asked to pay cannot assert any type of fault or reason as to why he or she should not be required to pay it.^TOP
There are more “extra” expenses for the children besides private school, camp, and child care. In reaching an agreement out of Court there are expenses parents should think about and discuss. Keep in mind that expenses change and oftentimes increase as the children get older. Even though your children might be 4 and 6 years old now, and only take ballet and gymnastics, at 14 and 16 years old they may have expensive costs like tutoring and car insurance.^TOP
A divorcing couple should discuss the payment of expenses such as:
- Extracurricular activities
- Day and overnight camp or other summer programs
- Car insurance
- SAT prep courses or tutoring
- College visit costs
- College applications
- Special occasion clothing
- Prom dresses and related expenses
- Birthday gifts for friends’ parties the children attend
- Significant birthday/holiday gifts for the children
- Bar/Bat Mitzvah costs
- Bar/Bat Mitzvah gifts for friends of the children
- School pictures
Even though the “guidelines” and the “Court” may not require contribution for some of these extras, the reality is that both parents might believe some or all of these things are important and the burden of paying for them should not fall on just one parent. ^TOP
A condition for contribution to these extra expenses for the children should be consultation between the parents and agreement as to the reasonableness of the activity before the expense is incurred. A parent must tell a child that both parents need to discuss the expenditure before a promise is made to incur the expense. However, neither parent’s consent should be unreasonably withheld.^TOP
The support laws of Pennsylvania do not require separated or divorced parents to pay any form of child support for emancipated children or to make any contributions for college costs. Under the law, children are emancipated at age eighteen or upon graduation from high school, whichever is last to occur. Exceptions may be made for children with severe disabilities that would prevent them from being employable.^TOP
Parents, who believe it is in their children’s best interests, may elect to include college support provisions in their Property Settlement Agreements. These contractual provisions become legal obligations. These obligations are enforceable by the family court and the children become third party beneficiaries of the contract between the parents. In planning for college costs, parents should be careful not to jeopardize their own ability to retire or to financially survive a divorce. Parents should be careful about diverting retirement contributions to college funds or converting income producing marital assets into college accounts. ^TOP
Parents can structure college funding in many ways. One way is to include provisions for future college contributions on a “proportion to then income” basis. Parents should be specific as to what college costs are applicable – tuition, fees, books, room and board or its equivalent for off campus housing, travel costs, allowance, and so on. Consider a contribution from the student or a grade average requirement so as to encourage student responsibility. Parents may want to limit their financial obligation to the in-state residential costs of a state school, or put a “cap” on the amount of contribution. They also may want to prioritize the funding sources with student Stafford loans, financial aid, scholarships, grants, and trusts being utilized first. Perhaps parental Plus loans could be utilized or parents could take turns co-signing additional student loans. Future college provisions should consider the duration of the financial assistance – undergraduate only? graduate education? Limited to 5 years – consecutive or cumulative? Should the student matriculate into college after high school, medical insurance coverage should still be available.^TOP
Can Divorcing Parents Save For College Expenses?
Another way is to establish college funding and planning now. There are numerous 529 and other educational plans available. Be sure to check the interplay between the consideration of financial aid and accounts in children’s or the parent’s name. Both parents can determine and set aside specific amounts for ongoing contributions. Make sure provisions include what happens to the unused funds should a student either not attend, not finish, or if there is s surplus of funds. Parents may want to consider increasing pre-emancipation support payments to include monies for a specific college account, with a matching or pro-rated amount to be contributed by the custodial parent.^TOP
Any college provisions should include disaster clauses releasing the parents from financial college obligations should there be an involuntary catastrophic event that renders a parent disabled, unemployable, or unemployed.^TOP