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Child Support in Pennsylvania: upward deviation may be based upon income available for support

August 26, 2016

Child support is determined by a formula in Pennsylvania.   This formula can be found in the Pennsylvania Child Support guidelines.    Support  generally is based upon  determinable factors, such as:  each party’s  income or earning capacity,  contributions to care,  payment for health insurance,  and the amount of overnights the child(ten) spend with a parent.   Other factors may also  affect the amount of child support.     What constitutes income is defined in the Pennsylvania Code at 23 Pa.C.S.A. §4302.    When the Pennsylvania legislature enacted guideline provisions to determine the amount that parents are responsible to pay to support their children,  it was with the intent to  create uniformity and reduce conflict around this issue.  Yet,  child support remains a hot button for many.  In part, this is because even with guidelines, there remain grey areas  about what income may be available for support,   thus affecting what one parent may owe the other.

Remarried Parent May Have More Income to Support Children 

For single parents sharing custody and support with a parent who has remarried, the burden may feel  unequal.   In certain circumstances looking into the lifestyle of the remarried parent, particularly what he/she pays for in the new marital residence, can support the basis for a request for higher child support.   In a recent opinion, the Pennsylvania Superior Court allowed  the single parent to receive an upward calculation to child support because Father  had greater ability to support his children than what  the guidelines would provide given his earning capacity.   The court found that all of Father’s income was available for support.  The guidelines  take into consideration living costs and expenses, and generally only use the after tax income of the child’s parents and not the income of step parents. However, the law does permit the court to include other household income.

In  the case of  J.P.D. v. W.E.D.. 114 A.3d 887 (Pa. Super. 2015),  the  parents initially disputed the earning capacity of Father.  Father’s expert testified that his earning capacity was $45,725. and Mother’s expert testified that Father’s earning capacity was $70,833.   The Court credited Father’s expert on earning capacity,  but gave an upward deviation  to Mother that was greater than 100% of actual child support guideline amount, based upon testimony at the trial  that Father’s new wife paid all the  household bills and expenses.

Father’s new wife had an annual income of approximately $1,000,000.    Father did not pay for any of his own expenses, including mortgages, car payments, utilities or entertainment.   The re-married father’s  new wife had full control over household expenses and provided for all of father’s needs. Father and his new wife owned the house in which they lived, a weekend getaway house, and another property to be developed. Father leased  a Cadillac for $940 a month and traveled and vacationed frequently. The Court found that since  Father’s new wife provided for  all of Father’s needs, all of his income was available for child support  for his two children from the previous marriage.   As a result, his child support order was for twice the amount ordinarily calculated under the guidelines.

In an appropriate case, the high income and  financial contributions of a step-parent or other member of a parent’s household may be considered in determining the amount of the parent’s income available for child support.    Facts  may support  a deviation  in child support even when  on the face both parties earn comparable income.

If you have questions about child support, spousal support or custody, feel free to contact us.