Thursday, May 13, 2010

The New Pennsylvania Child Support Guidelines

Anyone who pays or receives child support will be interested to know that in January 2010, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued an update to the statewide support guidelines. Both Pennsylvania and Federal law require a review of the support guidelines every four years to ensure that the most recent economic data is used to calculate child rearing costs.

The new guidelines are effective as of May 12, 2010, and can be found online by clicking here. There are a number of important changes to the guidelines which will affect most, if not all, child support orders in Pennsylvania. Child support lawyers in PA will again need to become familiar with all the new rules and their application to the specific cases of their clients. This article will note some of the highlights of the new PA support guidelines.

The basic structure of the guidelines has not changed, in that the guidelines still attempt to allocate to the child or children of two parents the same amount of money that would have been spent on behalf of the child or children had the parents been living together. These calculations, however, have changed significantly in that the formulas now allow for calculations of support for family net incomes of up to $30,000.00 per month, and the rules for combined family net incomes over $30,000.00 per month have changed significantly. The law previously known as the Melzer rule used in high income support cases, named after the case of Melzer v. Witsberger, 505 Pa. 462, 480 A.2d 991 (1984), has been superseded by the new guidelines.

Also superseded is the ruling in Isralsky v. Isralsky, 824 A.2d 1178 (Pa.Super. 2003), which allowed for a mortgage modification to a support order to occur after a divorce. The new rule clarifies that the mortgage payment deviation cannot be applied after a final order of equitable distribution has been entered, because presumably the marital residence will have been distributed to one party or the other.

There remain many variables to consider such as health insurance contributions, the number of overnights the non-custodial parent has with the child or children, unusually high mortgage payments, and other extraordinary expenses, to name a few. As set forth in the official comments to the new Rules, “[t]he basic support schedule incorporates an assumption that the children spend 30% of the time with the obligor and that the obligor makes direct expenditures on their behalf during that time.” The new guidelines call on the courts to recognize that some parents do not see their children often and to consider upward deviation of the support order as a result; conversely, parents who spend a significant amount of daytime time with the children and pay for meals and entertainment during those hours may seek a downward deviation from the guidelines even if those parents do not have the children overnight.

For some income levels, the guidelines will increase the amount of support; for others, the new guidelines will indicate a decrease. Both obligors and obligees should keep in mind, though, that no changes to existing support orders are automatic, and a petition must be filed before a support order can be modified.
The guidelines have increased the basic amount which low-income support obligors may keep for themselves in order to meet their own basic needs under Federal poverty standards. That amount, now called the “Self-Support Reserve,” increased from $748.00 per month to $867.00 per month.

The courts must also take into account the duration of the marriage when crafting spousal support orders.

Support payors and payees, especially in those families with high net monthly incomes, would be wise to meet with their PA family law attorneys to review their existing orders, so that the effects of the new Pennsylvania support guidelines can be weighed, and modifications sought if appropriate.