How Child Support is Calculated in Pennsylvania

Child support in Pennsylvania is calculated by a mathematical formula set forth in law.  There are, however, many nuisances to the formula, which are not discussed here.  The court may also deviate from the formula based on special or unusual circumstances.  However, in general, child support is calculated as set forth below. 

There are four main factors that affect the amount of child support payable.  Those factors are (1) the custodial schedule, (2) the number of children covered by the child support order, (3) the monthly after-tax incomes of the parties, and (4) certain additional expenses related to the children. 

Child support is generally payable to the parent with primary custody of the child/children by the other parent.  Which parent has primary custody of the child/children is determined by who has the most number of overnights with the child/children in a year based on the custodial schedule.  The parent with more than 50% of the overnights is the parent with primary custody.  The parent with partial custody of the child/children is entitled to a discount on the amount of child support owed if he or she has more than 40% of the overnights.  In the event of a 50/50 custodial schedule, child support is payable to the party with the lower income by the party with the higher income.  Other circumstances, such as split custody and children from prior relationships, can also affect the amount of child support payable under Pennsylvania law.

Once it has been determined which party will receive child support based on the custodial schedule, the next step in calculating child support is to determine the average monthly net incomes of the parents (i.e. after-tax incomes).  Net income includes income from any source, including wages, salaries, commissions, bonuses, interest, rental income, etc.  The only items that are deductible from the parties’ monthly gross incomes to arrive at the parties’ monthly net incomes are taxes, (federal, state, local, FICA), union dues, and alimony paid to the other party.  Other common deductions from a party’s income or paycheck, such as 401(k) contributions, are added back in to determine the party’s monthly net income. 

Once the parties’ monthly net incomes are calculated, they are added together to determine the Monthly Basic Child Support Obligation.  For example, if the mother has a monthly net income of $2,500.00 and the father has a monthly net income of $3,500.00, their combined monthly net income is $6,000.00.  Once the parties’ combined monthly net income is calculated, the Monthly Basic Child Support Obligation is determined by the number of children covered by the child support order (generally children under 18 or still in high school).  If the parties have two children eligible for child support, then the Monthly Basic Child Support Obligation in this example would be $1483.00 based on Pennsylvania’s child support formula (note: the formula numbers are updated periodically for inflation). 

Assuming that the mother has primary physical custody of the children, and the father has less than 40% of the overnights (so no discount is applicable), then the father’s monthly basic child support obligation would be $865.03.  That number is arrived at by calculating father’s share or percentage of the parties’ combined monthly net income ($3,500.00 ÷ $6,000.00 = 58.33%) and then multiplying the Monthly Basic Child Support Obligation by that percentage ($1483.00 x .5833 = $865.03).

Finally, adjustments are made to father’s monthly basic child support obligation based on certain additional expenses of the children.  Those expenses include things such as payments for health insurance premiums covering the children, childcare expenses necessary for work, and private school tuition.  More minor expenses such as sports enrollment fees, school supplies, clothing, etc. are not included in this adjustment, as they are presumed covered by the monthly basic child support obligation.  These additional expenses are split in accordance with the parties’ percentages of the combined monthly net incomes.  For example, if the father in the above example had monthly daycare expenses for the covered children that are necessary for him work, in the amount of $800.00 per month, and the mother had no such expenses, then father’s monthly basic child support obligation would be reduced by approximately $333.36 per month.  That amount is calculated by multiplying father’s childcare costs ($800.00) by mother’s share of the parties’ combined monthly net income (41.67%).  The mother’s share of the father’s child care expenses are then subtracted from the father’s basic monthly child support obligation to arrive at his total monthly child support obligation, which based on this example would be $522.67 ($856.03 – $333.36).

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