Since 1988, the federal government has required that each state enact laws for the payment and collection of child support, including a formula by which each jurisdiction will calculate it. Pennsylvania uses the income-shares model. Unlike the other formula commonly used, the income-shares model takes into account the income of both spouses. It aims to provide your kids with the same level of support they would have enjoyed if you and your spouse remained married.
The Income Shares Model
Pennsylvania's income-shares calculations work on the premise that the custodial parent is paying directly for her children's needs, writing checks each month for the mortgage, utilities, clothing and groceries. The non-custodial parent makes a cash payment to the custodial parent on a regular basis, to contribute to their expenses. The legal presumption here is that these calculations should result in the correct amount of child-support -- but that doesn't mean that the amount is immutable. If special circumstances may make it unworkable, Pennsylvania allows either parent to petition the court to change the presumptive amount, for good cause. If you don't petition the court, the amount arrived at using the income-shares calculation will be included in your divorce decree.
Pennsylvania's Child Support Guidelines
Pennsylvania publishes a chart that specifies exactly how much of your combined incomes should go to your children's needs, and the state adjusts it periodically to keep pace with inflation. If you contribute 75 percent to your combined incomes, Pennsylvania's income shares model dictates that you must pay to your spouse 75 percent of the amount set aside for your children, according to the chart -- assuming you're the non-custodial parent. For example, if you and your spouse collectively earn $8,000 a month, and if you have two children, $1,800 might be set aside for child support. If you earn $6,000 of the $8,000, you would pay $1,350 in support, or 75 percent of the $1,800. If you're the custodial parent, your spouse would pay you $450 a month in child support, or 25 percent of $1,800, and you would devote your own money directly to your children's needs.
Child Care and Medical Expenses
Pennsylvania typically treats child care costs and medical expenses as add-ons to the basic child support obligation. The court will apportion these extras between you and your spouse so that neither parent has to take the brunt of paying for all of them. Health insurance is usually decided on a case-by-case basis, depending on whether it's available to either parent through their employment.
A Reserve for Non-Custodial Parents
The state doesn't want to leave non-custodial parents impoverished and unable to meet their own needs post-divorce because child support has taken an unrealistic bite out of their earnings. Pennsylvania's income-shares calculations include a self-support reserve, although it isn't not much. The law allows you to keep a portion of your earnings that are equal to the federal poverty level for a single individual during the year you divorce.
Enforcing the Child Support Order
Unless you're self-employed, mostly likely you will have to pay your child support through income withholding; your employer will deduct this amount from your paycheck each earnings' period and will send it to the state's collection unit. The collection unit will then pay your spouse. The state may waive this requirement for good cause -- or, if you and your spouse agree in writing that you will pay her directly. You must be current with any temporary support order that has been in place while your divorce has been pending, or the court can't approve an alternate arrangement. If you fall behind after your divorce is final -- either because you've lost your job or because you stopped paying your spouse directly -- the court can hold you in contempt. This can result in jail time or fines, and suspension of any business or professional licenses you hold. If you weren't paying through income withholding before, the court will probably order it if you fall behind.