Responsibility and “Basic Support Obligation”
Article by: Richard K. Konkel
Pennsylvania’s support guidelines establish the amount of child support owed by one parent to the other. A parent is entitled to receive child support if he or she has physical custody of the child for more overnights than the other parent does. Where parents share physical custody equally, the parent who earns more money owes the other parent a decreased amount of child support.
The amount of child support is calculated from the parties’ combined total net income. The Pennsylvania support guidelines include a specific dollar amount, called the “basic support obligation,” for each child of the family, based exclusively on the parents’ combined total net income. The separate responsibility of each parent to pay a share of the support guidelines amount is then calculated proportionately, based on the percentage of the total combined income that each parent earns.
If a mother who owes a father child support earns 74% of the parents’ total combined income, she is ordered to pay 74% of the support guideline figure. When parents share custody equally, the higher earner pays support to the other parent, but with a discount of up to 20% to compensate for the expenses of shared custody.
Recently, a Pennsylvania father who thought he was entitled to a reduction in his support payment moved for modification of his support order and was frustrated when the support hearing officer instead increased the support payment amount. The mother had not requested any changes prior to the hearing, and the father’s request was specifically for a decrease in his obligation.
On appeal, the Pennsylvania appellate court affirmed the hearing officer’s decision. The court held that it was not necessary for the mother to have requested an increase or to have taken any position prior to the hearing. Instead, the court found that support hearing officers have the obligation and authority to determine the parties’ current incomes and to set an appropriate order based on those calculations. Hearing officers may also “attribute” income to parents who are found to be earning less than their actual income earning capacity. Overtime and bonuses are also included in income for support purposes.
When parents’ incomes go up or down, their child support orders can be modified if either parent files a petition with the court requesting modification. Before filing a request for a change in your child support, it is wise to check with a lawyer to review the possible results. If the income numbers are known a fairly accurate calculation can be made. If you have any questions about your child support payments, please contact CGA’s Family Law Department.