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. The court may also deviate from the formula based on special or unusual circumstances. However, in general, child support is calculated as follows:

First, you should understand that there are four main factors that affect the amount of child support payable in Pennsylvania.  Those factors are (1) the physical custody schedule, (2) the number of children covered by the child support order, (3) the monthly after-tax incomes of the parties, after factoring in any alimony payments, if any, and (4) certain additional expenses the parties may incur to the care of child(ren).

Child support is generally payable to the parent with primary custody of the child(ren) by the parent with partial custody of the child(ren).  Which parent has primary custody of the child(ren) is determined by who has the most of overnights with the child(ren) in a year based on the custodial schedule.  The parent with more than 50% of the overnights is the parent with primary custody.

It is worth noting that a parent with partial custody of the child(ren) 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 parent with the lower income by the parent with the higher income, with some limitations.

Other circumstances, such as split custody (split custody is where each parent has primary custody of one or more of the children in families with multiple children), 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 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.  Net income also includes any spousal support, alimony pendente lite or alimony received. 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), spousal support/alimony pendente lite/alimony paid to the recipient of the child support, and mandatory deductions such as union dues.  Other common voluntary 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 determined, child support is calculated in a few steps.

First, determine the combined monthly net income of both parents. Use that number and divide each of the parent’s individual monthly income by the combined monthly income to determine the percentage of each parent’s contribution to the combined monthly income.

Once those percentages are determined, then look to Pennsylvania’s Basic Child Support Obligation Guidelines to find the applicable Basic Child Support Obligation based on the number of children subject to the order.

The next step is to multiply the Basic Child Support Obligation by the obligor’s percentage of the combined net monthly income to determine the preliminary monthly basic child support obligation.

For example, if the father (obligor) has a monthly net income of $5,000 and the mother (obligee) has a monthly net income of $3,000, the combined monthly net income of both parents is $8,000 ($5,000 + $3,000 = $8,000). To determine the percentage of each parent’s contribution to the combined monthly income divide each parent’s individual net incomes by their combined net income. For the father ($5,000 / $8,000 = 58%) for the mother ($3,000 / $8,000 = 42%).

In our example, we will assume that this couple has two children, which means that the Basic Child Support Obligation, according to the Pennsylvania Basic Child Support Obligation Guidelines, would be $1795.

To determine how much the obligor parent is required to pay in child support to the obligee parent, multiply the Basic Child Support Obligation ($1795) by the obligor’s percentage of the combined income. In our example, father is the obligor, so the Basic Child Support Obligation is multiplied by father’s percentage of the combined income ($1,795 x .58 = $1,041.10).

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 to mother would be $1,041.10.

Finally, adjustments are made to the mother’s monthly basic child support 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, and are generally spit in accordance with the parties’ percentages of the combined monthly income.  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 mother in the above example had monthly daycare expenses for the covered children that are necessary for her to work in the amount of $800.00 per month, and the father had no such expenses, then mother’s monthly basic child support obligation would be increased by $464 per month.  That amount is calculated by multiplying mother’s childcare costs ($800.00) by father’s share of the parties’ combined monthly net income (58%) ($800 x .58 = $464). In other words, in addition to the basic child support obligation, father owes mother 58% of her childcare costs. In real life application, however, the actual amount would be somewhat less, because the court would take into consideration tax savings mother could realize on child care expenses. Correspondingly, if father had an expense for the children, such as healthcare costs, mother would owe him 42% of those costs. That cost would then be offset against his child support obligation.

You should note that as of 2019, how alimony is calculated in Pennsylvania changed. Based on the updated process of calculating alimony and child support, child support cannot even be considered until alimony (if applicable) is determined. Alimony is always paid by the parent with the higher net income, to the parent with a lower net income (assuming there is a significant difference between their incomes). In comparison, child support is always paid to the parent that has the child(ren) more than 50% of the overnights in any given year, or, in the case of a 50/50 custody arrangement, the lower income parent.

In the case that a mother has primary custody, but has a lower net income, the mother will be paid both alimony and child support. But if the mother has primary custody, and has a higher net income, she will be paying the father alimony, while the father is paying her child support. That situation results in an offset. For example, if the mother owes $450 a month for alimony and the father owes $750 for child support, the father will ultimately be paying the mother $300 a month. ($750 – $450 = $300).

In the event that the parents share 50/50 custody, the parent with the higher net income will pay child support, and, in some cases, will also pay alimony. For example, if the father has a higher net income and owes $450 a month for alimony, and the mother and father share custody 50/50, the father will pay both child support and alimony.

Obviously, calculating child support in Pennsylvania is not entirely straight forward. Individuals facing child support proceedings in Pennsylvania are well advised to obtain a consultation from an experienced Pennsylvania divorce attorney. Even small variation in monthly amounts can make a significant difference over the course of a child support order, and good advice from an attorney will

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