Child Support Law and Guidelines in Pennsylvania [2024 Updated]

Child support law pennsylvania

What is Child Support Used for in Pennsylvania

Child support is a parent’s court-ordered monetary support that is intended to be used to help with the costs of raising a child. Child support is a payment ordered when two parents are no longer living together, whether separated or divorced. The intent of child support is to provide a child with adequate financial assistance from both parents, whether the child is living with that parent or not.

PA child support payments may be ordered even in instances where a parent does not have contact with his or her child, unless that parent has legally terminated their parental rights with the permission of both the court and the other parent. In such instances parental rights will only be terminated if there is someone taking over the rights, such as a step-parent through an adoption.

A number of questions can arise related to the topic of child support. It’s important to everyone involved that the child support ordered by the court is both fair and accurate. An experienced family lawyer with extensive knowledge in Pennsylvania’s child support law can help you reach a fair settlement. Let’s take a look at some of the most common questions people have about child support.

Receiving Child Support in Pennsylvania

Child support can be obtained in various ways. A common approach involves parents reaching an agreement, seeking a judge’s approval for a support order through civil proceedings like divorce . Yet, most cases begin by filling out an Application for Child Support, which is then submitted to the local Domestic Relations office. In Pennsylvania each county has a Domestic Relations Section that is responsible for the processing of child support claims and the entry of child support orders. This office provides assistance in finding the noncustodial parent, establishing support obligations, collecting and distributing support, and enforcing those obligations.

In Pennsylvania, child support obligations normally last until the child turns 18 years old or graduates from high school, whichever comes later; however, child support can continue past the age of 18 and graduation if the child has certain physical or mental conditions that require continued support. There is no obligation for continuing support for college in Pennsylvania.

The Child Support Process Step by Step

Typically these are the steps the child support process in PA follows:

  1. The person seeking child support files a Complaint for Support through the Domestic Relations Section.
  2. A conference is scheduled to determine the amount of support due based upon the Support Guidelines.
  3. Conferences are held before a Conference Officer. These Conference Officers are not Judges or lawyers but are hired by the County to retrieve all the necessary information and determine the support amount using the Support Guidelines.
  4. Parties are required to bring proof of their income to the Conference in the form of pay stubs and tax returns.
  5. After the Conference the parties have 20 days to appeal the decision of the Conference Officer. If they appeal the decision the case will go before a Judge or a Support Master, depending on the County.

The Amount of Child Support

The courts of Pennsylvania determine child support amounts using the Support Guidelines, which are a set of rules promulgated by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court pursuant to the support law set out by the Pennsylvania Legislature.

2022 Child Support Guidelines Changes

Many of the changes made to the guidelines in 2022 lead to modest increases in support amounts. Nevertheless, some families may encounter more substantial increases based on their respective income levels. Parents whose combined net monthly income is between $20,300 – $22,600 saw the largest percentage change from the former guidelines.

Pennsylvania courts do not automatically grant support modifications based on the revised guidelines. Parents have to file a petiton to get a child support modification order.

How Much Child Support Does One Pay?

Child support amounts are calculated using a formula based on the income of both parties. The combined net monthly incomes of the parties are used to determine the base amount of support for the number of children involved. Each party is then responsible for a percentage of this amount based upon a percentage of each of their incomes. After the base amount is determined other factors such as daycare expenses, the cost of medical insurance, any Social Security benefits the child may be receiving, and the living arrangements of the children are used to adjust the amount upward or downward. Once the terms for child support are initially set there will be no automatic review and the support amount can be modified only upon a change in circumstances for one of the parties such as a new job, a raise, a change in custody or the loss of a job. The support guidelines are updated every four years and these updates are also considered to be a change of circumstances that warrants a review.

How do I know that the amount of the child support order is fair?

Child support is based upon guidelines. The State Legislature uses an income shares model that is reviewed every four years. They attempt to determine the proper amount of support using this model that combines parties’ net monthly incomes and determines what an intact family would spend at their combined incomes. It may not always seem fair but the legislature does their best to make sure that all parties are treated equally based on their incomes.

What if there is shared custody of the child(ren)?

Child support can still be paid by the party with the higher income when there is shared custody, but the higher earning party will receive a 20% reduction based on a 50/50 schedule. A reduction is available if the higher earning party has anywhere from 40% to 50% of the custody of the children.

Related: 5 Reasons to Hire a Child Custody Lawyer

Payment Obligations

Can Child Support Be Dropped?

Yes, if both parties agree there is no requirement that a support order be entered through the courts. Parties can make agreements outside of Domestic Relations and never enter the court system. Likewise, if the parties decide to drop support after it has been entered they can do that too, as long as they both agree. However, if a support order does not go through the Domestic Relations Section, the courts cannot enforce the payments or collect the support.

Child support orders through Domestic Relations are collected by the State through wage attachments and collected directly from employers, if the party is employed. If a party fails to pay their support, Domestic Relations has the ability to enforce the orders through a number of means such as seizing tax refunds and suspending driver’s licenses or hunting and fishing licenses. Ultimately, a party can be sent to jail for their failure to pay child support.

In addition, there is no obligation for payment of back support before the date of that a party files for support. So, for example, if parents are separated for a year without a support order and one parent files for support after that year, the support will only begin from the date of filing, not the date of separation.

How Many Child Support Payments Can Be Missed?

Collection action is usually started if a person falls more than 30 days behind in their payments.

When is child support no longer collected?

Child support in Pennsylvania ends when a child turns 18 or graduates from high school, whichever is later.

About Back Child Support

How Far Can Child Support Be Backdated?

Child support is backdated from the date of filing. There are a few, rare exceptions to this rule but it is almost always backdated only to the date of filing.

How Is Back Child Support Collected?

Back child support, or child support that is not paid, generally stays on the books and can be collected through the interception of tax refunds or at the time someone is attempting to close on a loan for a house. Arrears can also be reduced to a judgement and a party can attempt to collect on that judgement through the same methods as any creditor.

You can read more on retroactive child support here.

Contact Colgan & Associates To Be Your Trusted Family Lawyer

If you or someone you know is going through a separation or divorce in Pennsylvania and has questions related to child support, the best thing to do is seek professional legal advice first. Don’t delay having this conversation with our experuenced and compassionate Pennsylvania child support lawyers.

The earlier you are informed of Pennsylvania’s unique child support laws and how they pertain to your situation, the better equipped you will be to fight for a fair and adequate division of financial support for your child or children. Call us at (717) 790-2048 for a no obligation free phone consultation.

Book a free consultation here.

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