Pennsylvania Child Support Definitions

Pennsylvania Child Support:
Either or both parents may be ordered to provide child support according to their ability to pay. The factors for consideration set out by statute are:

(1) the net income of the parents;
(2) the earning capacity of the parents;
(3) the assets of the parents;
(4) any unusual needs of the child or the parents; and
(5) any extraordinary expenses.

Child support payments may be ordered to be paid through the Domestic Relations Section of the court. There are official child support guidelines available and these are presumed to be correct unless there is a showing that the amount would be unjust or inappropriate under the particular circumstances of a case. The court may require that health insurance coverage be provided for any child if it is available at a reasonable cost. [Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes Annotated, Title 23, Sections 4322 and Pennsylvania Case Law].


1. Monthly Gross Income:
Monthly gross income is ordinarily based upon at least a six-month average of all of a party’s income. The term "income" is defined by the support law, 23 Pa.C.S. 4302, and includes income from any source. The statute lists many types of income including, but not limited to:

(1) wages, salaries, bonuses, fees and commissions:

(2) net income from business or dealings in property:

(3) interest, rents, royalties, and dividends:

(4) pensions and all forms of retirement:

(5) income from an interest in an estate or trust:

(6) social security disability benefits, social security retirement benefits, temporary and permanent disability benefits, workers’ compensation and unemployment compensation:

(7) alimony if, in the discretion of the trier of fact, inclusion of part or all of it is appropriate: and

(8) other entitlements to money or lump sum awards, without regard to source, including lottery winnings, income tax refunds, insurance compensation or settlements: awards and verdicts: and any form of payment due to and collectible by an individual regardless of source.

Monthly Gross Income Does Not Include:

Neither public assistance nor Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits shall be counted as income for purposes of determining support.

Reduced or Fluctuating Income:

(1) Voluntary Reduction of Income. Where a party voluntarily assumes a lower paying job, there generally will be no effect on the support obligation. A party will ordinarily not be relieved of a support obligation by voluntarily quitting work or by being fired for cause.

(2) Involuntary Reduction of Income. No adjustments in support payments will be made for normal fluctuations in earnings. However, appropriate adjustments will be made for substantial continuing involuntary decreases in income.

(3) Seasonal Employees. Support orders for seasonal employees, such as construction workers, shall ordinarily be based upon a yearly average.

(4) Income Potential. Ordinarily, a party who willfully fails to obtain appropriate employment will be considered to have an income equal to the party’s earning capacity. Age, education, training, health, work experience, earnings history and child care responsibilities are factors which shall be considered in determining earning capacity.

2. Low Income Cases:
(1) In computing a basic spousal support or alimony pendente lite obligation, the presumptively correct amount of support shall not reduce the obligor’s net income below $550 per month. For example, if obligor earns $600 per month and obligee earns $300 per month, the formula in Part IV of Rule 1910.16-4 would result in a support obligation of $120 per month. Since this amount leaves the obligor with only $480 per month, it must be adjusted so that obligor retains at least $550 per month. The presumptively correct minimum amount of spousal support, therefore, is $50 per month in this case.

(2) When the obligor’s monthly net income is $550 or less, the court may award support only after consideration of the obligor’s actual living expenses.

3. High Income Child Support Cases.
When the parties’ combined net income exceeds $15,000 per month, child support shall be calculated pursuant to Melzer v. Witsberger. 505 Pa. 462, 480 A.2d 991 (1984). The Presumptive minimum amount of child support shall be obligor’s percentage share of the highest amount of support which can be derived from the schedule or the chart for the appropriate number of children and using the parties’ actual combined income to determine obligor’s percentage share of this amount. The court may award an additional amount of child support based on the remaining combined income and the factors set forth in Melzer.

4. Shared Custody. Under the prior guidelines there was no formula or procedure for deviating from the basic support guidelines when custody is shared equally or the non-custodial parent has substantial or partial custody. The guidelines provided that the obligor’s support obligation should be reduced only if he or she spent "an unusual amount of time with the children." Yet, there have been several decisions rejecting deviation even if the obligor spends almost 50% of the time with the children. See. e.g.. Anzalone v. Anzalone, 449 Pa. Super. 201, 673 A.2d 377 (1996)(40% time was not "unusual") : Dalton v. Dalton, 409 Pa. Super. 258, 597 A.2d 1192 (1991)(43% time did not justify deviation).

It is generally agreed, however, that there should be some reduction in the support obligation in these cases to reflect the decrease in the obligee’s variable expenses and the increase in obligor’s fixed and variable expenses as a result of the children spending substantially more time with the obligor. As part of its four year review of the guidelines, the Committee examined seven different methods being used by other states but found that none of them met these objectives without introducing a substantial reduction in the support obligation at some income levels or income differentials for relatively small increases in custodial time. As a result, the Committee initially recommended the alternative solution of no reduction at all for time spent with the children. Based on the comments received, however, the Committee reconsidered this recommendation and ultimately selected a method which gives some recognition to the shift in child-related expenditures that occurs when the obligor spends a substantial amount of time with the children. This method is set forth in Rule 1910.1 6-4(c) and has been built into the formula used to calculate the presumptively correct amount of the support obligation. While not a perfect solution to the problem of establishing support obligations in the context of substantial or shared custody, it is better than the previous void and preferable to the many other methods developed by local courts which effectively reduced the support obligation out of proportion to the increase in custody time. Its chief advantage is that there is no sharp reduction in the obligation at the 40% threshold. It also provides statewide uniformity. The method does not, however, result in $0 when there is equal custody and equal income. In those cases, therefore, the Rule provides for a cap to reduce the obligation so that the obligee does not receive a larger portion of the combined income than the obligor. Although this cap may in some cases result in a substantial reduction between 45-50% time, the Committee is not aware of an existing model that does not create some "cliff effect" at some level at some point in time. This model was chosen over others because the cases which involve truly equal time-sharing and equal incomes continue to represent a small percent of support cases.

5. Multiple Families. The Committee has chosen to retain the existing approach for establishing multiple child and spousal support obligations. New Rule 1910.16-7 sets forth the method for calculating child support obligations so that all of the obligor’s children continue to have equal access to his or her resources and no child receives priority over the other children.

6. Child Care Expenses. Whereas the prior rules provided for equal sharing of these expenses. Rule 1910.16-6(a) now provides for proportionate sharing based on the parties’ net incomes so that these expenses are allocated in the same manner as other expenses which are typically added to the basic support obligation. The Rule also reflects the availability and limitations of the federal child care tax credit which can be claimed by the custodial parent.

7. Health Insurance Premiums. Under the prior rules, the portion of the cost of health insurance premiums which benefit the other party or the children was deducted from the party’s net income. This provided little incentive for either party to obtain or maintain health insurance coverage for the benefit of the other family members. If the obligor was giving the premium, it reduced the basic support award only marginally. If the obligee was paying the premium, he or she received virtually no financial credit at all in terms of a higher support award. To maximize the value for the party carrying the health insurance, new Rule 1910.16-6(b) treats the cost of the premium as an additional expense subject to allocation between the parties in proportion to their net incomes. This more accurately reflects the costs of carrying such insurance and also ensures that the obligee receives some financial credit for carrying the insurance. The new Rule also permits allocation of the entire premium, including the party’s portion of the premium, when the insurance benefits the other party or the children. This change provides further incentive for parties to obtain health insurance for the benefit of the other party and the children.

8. Unreimbursed Medical Expenses. There are three changes to the treatment of unreimbursed medical expenses. First, since the first $250 per year per child of these expenses is already built into the basic child support obligation reflected in the chart and the schedule, only medical expenses which exceed this amount are subject to allocation between the parties as an additional expense to be added to the basic support obligation. The definition of medical expenses is amended to include insurance co-payments, deductibles. and orthodontia and to exclude chiropractic services.