Child Support Obligations

Child support is a shared responsibility of both parents. No matter what custody arrangement exists between parents for the sharing of physical custody of a child, some sharing of financial obligations usually is ordered by the courts if one parent seeks child support from the other parent. In deciding whether a parent must pay child support, the courts focus on the earning capacity of both parents, and not simply on their actual earnings.

The parent with longer periods of physical custody is generally entitled to some child support even if he or she earns more than the other parent. A parent who is obliged to pay support may be entitled to a reduction of up to 20% of the recommended support order if he or she has overnight custody that amounts to 40% or more of the calendar year overnights.

Nurturing Parent Doctrine
Recently, a Pennsylvania father appealed a trial judge's decision that relieved the father's former wife from making any contributions to the support of their child. The former wife and mother was remarried and had recently given birth to another child. She was not working and was able to prove that the costs of infant child care and her loss of government benefits would put her at an economic disadvantage if she returned to work. The court relieved her of any child support obligations under the "nurturing parent" doctrine. Pennsylvania law has long recognized that, where a parent elects to stay at home with a young child, he or she may be excused from contributing to support.

In deciding whether to excuse such a parent, the courts consider the age and circumstances of the child who is the subject of the support proceedings. The courts focus on whether other sources of support are available to the child. Most often, the nurturing parent doctrine is asserted by mothers who wish to stay at home with young children. Application of the doctrine often places all responsibility for the child's support on the child's father by allowing mother to be held to a zero earning capacity. The nurturing parent doctrine is most often honored by the courts in cases where the father and mother who are presently parties to the case made a prior agreement between themselves for mother to stay home with the children.

In the case at hand, the father objected to the application of the nurturing parent doctrine where the child being "nurtured" was not the child whose support was at issue and was not a child of the father's. The Pennsylvania Superior Court found that whether or not the nurtured child was the same child whose support was at issue was not a controlling factor in deciding if the mother was entitled to nurturing parent status. Instead, the mother's earning capacity and the support otherwise available to the child at issue were the primary issues for the court's focus.

Many Pennsylvania county courts consider every parent responsible for paying some child support, no matter what his or her circumstances. Parents who seek relief from child support based on the nurturing parent doctrine are frequently denied relief. But a parent who chooses to stay at home with a young child is entitled to seek relief from the payment of support on the ground that the young child is in need of parental nurturing and that the fulfillment of that need prevents the care-taking parent from earning income.

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