April 26, 2016
By: Elizabeth Early
One of the most commonly asked questions that I hear from new clients is: “How is child support calculated?” When parties transition from a shared household income to two separate, individual incomes, it is natural for both parties to feel anxious about just how much they will be expected to contribute to the other party, or conversely, what they can expect to receive in financial support. Below are 10 Commonly Asked Questions and Answers.
- What is included in my income for the purposes of calculating child support?
The definition of income for child support purposes is VERY broad and includes income from “any source.” Examples include your wages, salaries, bonus, rental income, retirement payments, trust income, social security benefits and lottery winnings. Yes, your March Madness winnings are includable in child support.
- How can you figure out what my income and my spouse’s income are?
Typically, with most individuals, we can ascertain your gross income from your taxes and your recent pay-stubs. For individuals who are self-employed or receive complex, multi-component compensation packages, the evaluation of your income is more naturally more complex.
- What about all of the deductions that come out of my paycheck? My gross income is way more than I actually take home.
For child support purposes, we only deduct a handful of items, specifically:
i. Federal, state and local income taxes;
ii. Unemployment compensation taxes and Local Services Taxes;
iii. F.I.C.A. payments;
iv. Mandatory union dues; and
v. Alimony paid to the other party.
- Wait! I have deductions for other expenses as well such as my healthcare insurance premiums and my retirement.
Voluntary retirement contributions do not get deducted from your gross income for child support purposes.
Healthcare insurance expenses also do not get deducted from your gross income for child support purposes, but there will be an adjustment to support in your favor for the amount that you pay for your children (and your spouse, if applicable).
You should discuss your specific paycheck deductions with your attorney to see whether or not they should affect your support figure.
- My spouse does not work, even though I think he/she should, how do you calculate their income?
If a parent is able to work, but is not working or is underemployed, we can ask the court to assign an earning capacity to them based on what they should be earning. Factors that will influence an individual’s earning capacity include age, education, work experience and historical income.
- How is child support actually calculated?
In Pennsylvania, we have a table called the Monthly Basic Child Support Schedule which can be found at Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 1910.16-3. This table is updated every three years. The table is intended to reflect the monthly funds spent on children in intact families by combined income and the number of children in the family. Based on the table, we can determine what you and your spouse would typically spend on your child/children each month if you did not separate. Then, based on your respective net incomes, we determine what percentage each of you should contribute to that monthly figure. There are additional adjustments for other factors such as substantial custody time and the payment of health insurance premiums.
- What about other expenses for my child? Who is responsible for child care? What about private school and summer camp? How about health care costs that are not covered by insurance?
Childcare, assuming it is reasonable and necessary for a parent to maintain employment, is typically divided between the parents in proportion to their incomes.
If the parents agree on private school and/or summer camp, that expense is also typically divided between the parents in proportion to their incomes. If the parents do not agree on private school and/or summer camp, the court is often asked to determine if those extra expenses are appropriate. If the court does determine that such expenses are appropriate and reasonable, then the cost will be divided in proportion to the parents’ incomes.
Unreimbursed medical expenses (after the first $250) are also divided between the parents in proportion to their incomes.
- Are there any other factors that can affect child support?
Sure. The court has fairly broad discretion to deviate from the child support calculation if there are extenuating circumstances present. Such circumstances could include large monetary gifts or inheritances, unusual needs of the children, and other household income.
- What happens when my child becomes 18? What about college expenses?
In Pennsylvania, child support terminates when the child is emancipated. A child is emancipated when they turn 18 or graduate from high school (whichever occurs later) unless the child has special needs that require a continuation of support. Child support does not continue through college and, absent an agreement by the parents, the court will not order a parent to contribute to college expenses.
- I am so confused. How do I learn more?
Every person’s situation is unique and there are many exceptions to the general rules and guidelines discussed above. Speak with an attorney who specializes in family law to get a better idea of your specific child support obligations and rights.
Visit the Family Law page here.
The information above is general: we recommend that you consult an attorney regarding your specific circumstances. The content of this information is not meant to be considered as legal advice or a substitute for legal representation.