Pittsburgh Child Support Lawyer - PA Child Support Attorney - Allegheny County
Child Support in Pennsylvania
Our Pittsburgh child support lawyers handle all conferences, hearings, complex hearings and contempt matters in Allegheny County and the surrounding areas.
We can represent you in a new support case or modification of an existing order whether you are the plaintiff or defendant in the action.
PA Support Background
Pennsylvania uses the "income shares model" for its support guidelines. This model attempts to provide children of divorced, separated, or non-married parents with the same amount of money for living as if they lived in a family with both biological parents.
This means in PA, a child is entitled to support from both parents.
- If you have primary custody or shared custody but earn less than the other parent you can obtain child support. This is true if you are a single parent raising a child, married but living separate from your spouse, or divorced from the mother/father of your child or children.
Whether you are employed, unemployed or disabled; even if you earn enough to make ends meet, PA law provides a framework for a custodial parent to receive financial assistance from the other parent.
Filing for support in PA is free and you don't need a lawyer to file.
Regardless of the circumstances, dealing with child support is very difficult for the families involved. The main thing to consider is that the guidelines for child support are in place to provide for the basic needs of the dependent children.
PA Child Support Guidelines
In Pennsylvania, child support is governed by a fairly rigid set of guidelines. The support guidelines set forth a recommended amount of child support based on a calculation of several factors.
The guidelines are set forth in P.a.R.C.P. 1910-16.3 and include figures for combined net monthly income up to $30,000.
The PA Child Support Guidelines were revised on February 10, 2017 and went into effect on May 1, 2017.
Prior to May 1, 2017, the last changes to the guidelines occurred in August 2013 with changes to the minimum reserve amount and amended figures for support.
Over the past 20 or so years, the changes have taken place every three to five years with previous revisions becoming effective in: May 2010, January 2005, April 1999, and September 1994.
As of January 2019, the process of revising the Guidelines was started by the PA Supreme Court Guidelines Committee.
What Do the Guidelines Include?
The guidelines take into account that both parents have to pay for:
- clothing; and
- “other miscellaneous expenses”
- as well as the first $250 dollars of unreimbursed medical expenses per child.
The guidelines do not include items such as:
- medical coverage;
- extra-curricular activities;
- day-care; and
- private school tuition.
Additional funds for these items are added to a support award during the calculation of child support.
Pennsylvania Child Support Estimator at the PA Child Support Program Website.
Payment or Receipt of Support
The amount of child support owed begins to accrue from the date on which the support complaint is filed. This may be several weeks prior to the conference or support hearing. Accordingly, if you have been served with a support complaint, you may make direct payments to the obligee to minimize the amount of arrears owed at the date of the conference/hearing. If there is an overpayment, the arrears may be credited to reflect the overpayment.
The parent receiving child support is called the obligee, and the parent paying child support is referred to as the obligor.
Once a support Order has been established the obligor will generally be wage attached and child support owed will be deducted directly from the obligor's pay. If the obligor is self-employed or until a wage attachment is entered, the person paying child support will need to make all child support payments directly to Pennsylvania State Collection and Disbursement Unit ("PASCDU"). Once an Order for support is in place, no payments should be made directly to the obligee.
Just as the support payments are made to PASCDU, the payments to the obligee will also be disbursed by PASCDU. The parent receiving child support may have the money deposited directly into a checking account, or they may receive an "EPPI-Card" which is like a debit card, where payments will be added.
To review your support case online and to review the status of any payments or arrears you may set up a user account with the Pennsylvania Child Support and Enforcement System ("PACSES").
Factors Which Affect the Amount Support
Except in rare cases, if the parents share physical custody of the child, the higher wage earning parent will be responsible for providing the lower wage earning parent with child support.
The amount of support owed can be affected by the custodial time each parent has, in that there may be a downward deviation in the amount of support owed if the parents have shared physical custody or if the obligor has substantial custody time. Otherwise, the primary custodial parent will generally receive child support from the other parent. Various factors can have an impact on the ultimate award of support.
Duration of Child Support
The obligation to pay child support is not dischargeable once it has been established, and will be owed:
- until the child reaches the age of 18;
- or graduates from high school, whichever occurs later.
- (or perhaps longer if the child is disabled).
I thought I could handle it...
We often get calls from folks who have tried to go it alone only to have a bad result. Then they call after the hearing wanting us to try to fix the problem. A word to the wise, do not assume the other party will not have a lawyer just because you think they cannot afford it. When dealing with such an important matter people get help from family and friends to maximize (or minimize) the amount of support. Also, if we do not handle the hearing, we are not handling your exceptions, since you most likely did not create a useful record or enter the appropriate exhibits. When in doubt, play it safe.
Other times, quite honestly, if both parties are W-2 employees without any special issues, you very well may be able to adequately represent yourself. Ultimately, that is something only you can decide.
Why hire a lawyer for your child support case?
Some support cases are rather routine and it is possible to get an idea of what may be owed or expected by using one of the support calculators or estimators. We even link to the Pennsylvania support calculator on this site, but the free calculators all have their limitations. While they are a good starting point, it is not recommended that they be used in place of performing detailed income calculations and a guideline analysis.
We utilize the most up-to-date software very similar to that which the court uses, which gives us the ability to provide our clients with extensive information reflected in sophisticated reports, charts and graphs.
We also can make legal arguments to increase the amount of support you should receive or reduce the amount of support you should pay based on statues and/or case-law that most people would not know exist. We know what questions to ask, what documents to bring and how to prepare you and present your case in the most favorable way. We know how to use the various rules in your favor. We make sure you do not give up any important rights or get taken advantage of.
Most of all, we take the stress out of the process by fully preparing you for what to expect, well in advance so that you can rest assured that we have all your bases are covered. Rather than walking in alone with a handful of papers and hoping, we provide the you confidence that comes from knowing you will be represented with care and ready for any scenario.
Be prepared for court
In Allegheny County, the support conference and hearing are scheduled on the same day. If the parties cannot agree at the conference (in the cubicle with a domestic relations officer), the parties will go to a Support Hearing before a Hearing Officer that same day, so it is imperative that you are prepared to proceed with a full hearing on your scheduled court date. Unlike other counties where the conference and hearing are scheduled weeks apart, you will be expected to present/defend your case at the scheduled time so advance planning is a must.
Support Conference (Allegheny County)
The matter will begin in a cubicle with a domestic relations officer who will run calculations based on the information provided to them. A support Order can be entered by consent at that stage and the matter is over. The conference level is usually reserved for up to an hour per matter. If there is no agreement at the conference, the parties will head back to the waiting area until a hearing officer is available.
Support Hearing (Allegheny County)
The hearing procedure is testimony by summary when represented by counsel with time for each side to cross-examine the other. The hearing is typically limited to thirty minutes, but may extend longer depending on the circumstances. If the parties know in advance that they will require a hearing and there are several issues of contention or unusual facts, the matter should be designated as complex ahead of time to proceed to a complex hearing.
Complex Child Support
Business owners, high-income individuals, seasonal employees and people paid in cash are the most likely to require the extra time (and capabilities) afforded by a complex hearing. Any time experts are being used to calculate business income or additional fact witnesses are required, the matter should clearly be designated complex from the outset.
Having a complex designation also allows for discovery which otherwise cannot be requested for a regular support matter. Unless the parties are also going through a divorce and have requested discovery this is the only way to get certain information if the parties were never married. A complex hearing can be half-day, full day or multiple days depending on the complexity of the issues. Unlike regular support matters, payment from the parties is required in advance for the hearing officer's time.
Filing for Child Support in Pittsburgh, PA
Any parent seeking child support through the court may initiate the process by filing a complaint for child support. Thereafter, a child support conference and/or child support hearing will be scheduled, during which the parties will go to the family court facility to formally address the support amount.
To file for child support (if you live in Allegheny County), you can go to the main child support office downtown in the Manor Building at 564 Forbes Avenue. The support office is located on the fifth floor and is open Monday - Friday from 8:00 am - 2:00 pm. You can also file for support downtown at "night court" every Wednesday between 4:30 pm and 7:00 pm in Family Court Building located at 440 Ross Street.
For residents living in the South Hills, a complaint for support may be filed at the Mt. Lebanon Regional Office located at 250 Mt. Lebanon Blvd, Suite 200, Pittsburgh, PA 15234.
Residents of the East Suburbs can utilize the Penn Hills Regional Office located at 12000 Frankstown Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15235 for support filings.
Filing a support complaint is free. You simply need to bring documentation with your Social Security number and the SSNs for your children; medical insurance cards, or copies of the cards and a photo ID. View and print a Child Support Complaint form.
To contact the court directly with support related questions, you can call (412) 350-5600 Monday - Thursday: 9:00 am - 11:45 am and 1:00 - 3:00 pm and Friday: 9:00 am - Noon.
Calculating Child Support in PA
Effective January 1, 2019, cases are handled differently than they had been in the past. The revised rules (at Pa.R.C.P. 1910-16.4) utilize a completely new way of calculating support and expenses.
The process of calculating child support is somewhat complicated and involves multiple steps.
To illustrate how the court handles this, an overly simplified review of how child support is calculated below.
- The first step is to determine the net monthly income of each party. Note that there are multiple sources of funds that may be included as income.
- Once the net incomes of both parents are established, the combined net income of the parties is used to obtain the total amount of support by both parents (basic child support obligation) based on the number of children. This is the figure which can be found in the guideline table found at 1019.16-4.
- The income percentage of each parent is then used to split the total amount into the portion attributable to each parent.
- The amounts owed may then be further adjusted by the substantial or shared custody time, if applicable.
- Next, additional expenses (child care, health insurance and other expenses) are factored in to reach a monthly guideline amount for support.
- In cases where Spousal Support or APL are involved, it is calculated in step two after the net incomes of the parties before the basic child support calculation.
We utilize the latest software which is up to date with the new law. However, the PACSES system used by the court is still in the process of being updated, so it is important to plan accordingly before heading to court for any new case or modification of an old case, since the documentation required and procedures for obtaining a Final Support Order have changed.
Child Support Modification
Under Pa.R.C.P 1910.19(a) The amount of child support may be modified if there is a material and substantial change in circumstances, including the loss of a job, injury, or disability of the obligor. An increase in wages by either parent provides the basis for seeking a modification of the amount of child support. However, a voluntary reduction in earnings or self-removal from the workforce will not be considered factors in reducing the amount of child support. In the instance where one parent is either not working, or is underemployed, an earning capacity may be imputed by the court.
Note, that according to Pa.R.C.P 1910.19(c) "pursuant to a petition for modification, the trier of fact may modify or terminate the existing support order in any appropriate manner based upon the evidence presented without regard to which party filed the petition for modification. If the trier of fact finds that there has been a material and substantial change in circumstances, the order may be increased or decreased depending upon the respective incomes of the parties, consistent with the support guidelines and existing law, and each party’s custodial time with the child at the time the modification petition is heard."
This means that even if you are the party filing to reduce the amount of support you pay, at court, the Order can be increased depending on the facts.
Likewise, if you file to increase the amount of support you receive, the award can end up being lower at court.
If you are not sure how filing a modification will effect your case, it may be wise to seek assistance from a lawyer before filing or going to court. We have seen cases where the opposing party (even when represented by counsel) ends up with a result to their detriment that they did not anticipate. There are numerous reasons why this can happen, which we can explain.
How we can assist you?
If you need help getting child support from the other parent of your child, we can help. If you have been sued for child support and need to make sure you are protected during your day in court, we can help. If you are currently receiving child support but believe you should be getting more based on a material and substantial change in the circumstances, we can help you with a modification for the amount you receive.
If you are currently paying child support and your circumstances have changed or you have a reduction in income, which was beyond your control, we can help with the amount you pay.
Free Phone Consultation for Questions about Child Support
For more information about child support in Pennsylvania, call Scott L. Levine at (412) 303-9566. The initial phone consultation is Free.