Frequently Asked Questions About Child Support And Custody

How is the amount of a child support order determined?

What can I do if I disagree with the child support order when it is established by the court?

How do I request a modification of a child support order?

How long do I have to pay child support?

What is the best way to obtain support for myself?

I am currently separating from the father of my child, how will custody be determined?

What is a psychological examination?

I have primary custody of my child, can I move out of state?

How do I obtain support for my children?

The mother of my child does not permit me to see the child; do I still owe a duty of support?

I know the mother of my children is not spending the support on the children, can I stop paying?

If I quit my job, do I still owe child support?

What is earning capacity?


How is the amount of a child support order determined?

The amount of child support awarded by the court is established in accordance with the Pennsylvania Support Guideline. The Support Guideline was developed on the idea that the children of separated or divorced parents should receive the same proportion of parental incomes as if the parents were together. The Support Guideline is based on the reasonable needs of the child or spouse seeking support, the ability of the obligor to provide support, and the net incomes and earning capacities of the parties involved.

What can I do if I disagree with the child support order when it is established by the court?

An order of child support can only be changed by filing an appeal. The appeal must be filed within 10 days of the date the order is issued. The appeal must be filed with the Court of Common Pleas in the county that issued the support order.

How do I request a modification of a child support order?

A petition to modify the child support order may be filed by either party to a support action if a material change in circumstances has taken place. One example of a material change is the loss or change of income or employment by either party. The Domestic Relations Section (DRS) of your county court is responsible for determining whether or not a material change in circumstances has occurred. To file a Modification Petition, contact the DRS that manages your case, and request a petition for modification, complete the petition and return it to the DRS. The DRS will advise you of its determination and if and when a hearing will occur.

How long do I have to pay child support?

Pennsylvania law establishes that both parents are liable for the support of their children who are unemancipated and 18 years of age or older. For example, a support obligation may continue for a child who is 18 and still attending high school, one of the parents may file a "Petition for Modification of an Existing Support Order" to request that the child support order be stopped. See Question and Answer #3 for more information. Additionally, there may be other situations, such as the existence of physical or emotional challenges, when parents may be required to pay support for a child who is 18 years of age or older. Arrears remain an outstanding debt until paid in full, regardless of how long that takes. Modification of a support order will not eliminate arrears that accumulated as a result of nonpayment of the support order.

What is the best way to obtain support for myself?

In Pennsylvania, if you are an economically dependent spouse, that is to say, if your income is less than your spouse, you may be entitled to receive spousal support. Spousal support is a payment made from an economically independent spouse to a dependent spouse when the parties are separate and apart from each other and the dependent spouse is not at fault. However, if the dependent spouse cannot meet the criteria for spousal support, the dependent spouse may qualify for alimony pendente lite. Alimony pendente lite, otherwise known as APL, can be paid from the economically independent spouse to the dependent spouse once a divorce complaint is filed. This payment is made regardless of fault and is calculated based upon a percentage difference between the parties' monthly net incomes. Finally, Pennsylvania provides a third type of support called alimony. Alimony is paid in cases where economic justice cannot be achieved through division of the marital assets at the time of equitable division. You should consult a qualified family law attorney regarding your rights to any monthly support payments as a result of dissolution of your marriage.

I am currently separating from the father of my child, how will custody be determined?

Generally speaking, on a recent separation, the court will approve any agreement that the parties can reach regarding custody. At Casale & Bonner, P.C., we emphasize stability for the sake of the child or children. Both parents, absent any allegations of abuse, should maximize the time that they spend with the children. Accordingly, factors such as work schedules, school schedules, extracurricular activities and distance of travel are taken into consideration to set a schedule that is best suited to maximize the parents time with the children, while providing consistency.

If, however, as is sometimes the case between divorcing parents, an initial agreement cannot be reached, the court will set a temporary order providing time to each parent pending a custody trial. At the trial, the parties will be permitted to present testimony and evidence as to who is best suited to be the child's primary custodial parent. The court will make that determination in the best interest of the child.

What is a psychological examination?

Often, if the parties are unable to reach an agreement between themselves as to the best interest of their child, an independent psychologist is consulted to meet with both parties and any significant individuals in the child's life, including, stepparents, grandparents, etc. The psychologist, upon completing his evaluation, will make recommendations to the court as to factors the court should consider in determining the placement of the child with either parent. Accordingly, the psychologist provides more detailed information to the court. The court will make the ultimate decision as to which party should be the primary custodial parent.

I have primary custody of my child, can I move out of state?

A primary custodial parent in Pennsylvania seeking to relocate a significant distance should first seek court approval for the move. A hearing will be held, at which time, the party seeking to relocate has to demonstrate the following:

1. That the proposed move will substantially enhance the quality of life of the child.
2. That the party seeking to relocate has pure motives for the relocation.
3. That suitable substitute visitation can be achieved for the noncustodial parent.

If, you are seeking to relocate a significant distance from the noncustodial parent, you should first consult an attorney prior to your pending move.

How do I obtain support for my children?

A person seeking child support, must file a complaint for support with the court. Most County Domestic Relations Office (DRO) has forms for primary custodial parents to complete and file seeking to establish their right to collect support. Absent the filing of a complaint for support, there is no legal obligation upon the other party to pay. Accordingly, unless an agreement otherwise has been reached between the parties for payment, one of the first steps for a primary custodial parent to take after separation is to seek support through their county's Domestic Relations Office.

The mother of my child does not permit me to see the child; do I still owe a duty of support?

Yes. The person paying support must comply with a support order even if the custodial parent is not complying with the custody order. The remedy for the noncustodial parent, who is paying the support, is to file either a petition seeking to specifically outline the periods of partial custody to which they are entitled, or, if an order is in existence, to file contempt against the party failing to abide by the custody order. The obligation for support is separate and apart from custody.

I know the mother of my children is not spending the support on the children, can I stop paying?

The Pennsylvania Child Support Guidelines establish the level of support a noncustodial parent owes the custodial parent based upon the party's incomes and the number of children. It is not required that the custodial parent actually spend the support directly upon the children, nor, can the payer spouse request receipts proving how the support was utilized. The law presumes that the support is used to help provide all things that the child needs, including housing, food, clothing, increased utilities, activities, etc.

If I quit my job, do I still owe child support?

Yes. The courts do not recognize a voluntary quit as a circumstance that would limit an obligation of child support. To the contrary, if an individual voluntarily quits their job, they will continue to be assessed a child support obligation equal to the amount they would have owed had they not quit their job. The same is true for those who are terminated or otherwise fired from their employment. However, in the instance of an involuntary loss of employment through lay off or other downsizing, the individual's earnings may be reduced to lessen their child support obligation. If, after a period of time, no new employment is found, the courts can assess an earning capacity to the individual who has an obligation to pay support.

What is earning capacity?

An earning capacity is a monthly income assessed to an individual even though they do not actually earn the income. For instance, an individual who graduates from college with a degree in education that chooses not to teach, but rather take a minimum wage job could be assessed an earning capacity as a starting teacher. Earning capacities are based upon the individual's education, training and experience. Monthly support obligations are then based upon that individual's capacity to earn rather than their actual wages.


Casale & Bonner, P.C., is happy to answer any family law questions you have. Call us at 570-326-7044.