Determining Support Payments

Calculating Amount of Support Required
In Pennsylvania, support amounts are determined by using written support guidelines, which are the same in the whole Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Copies of the guidelines are also available from the Domestic Relations office at a minimal cost, or they can be found in the Montgomery County Law Library, located in the basement of the courthouse.

Although guidelines are used to determine the support amount, every case is also affected by individual circumstances. Some of the items which may be considered in deciding a support amount are:
  • Monthly Net Income - This is determined by averaging the monthly gross income (before taxes) over a six-month period (when possible), and subtracting from it the mandatory (must be taken) deductions. Monthly gross income includes overtime, tips, bonuses, and commissions. Federal, state, and local taxes, Social Security deductions, medical insurance costs that benefit the children and other spouse, mandatory retirement contributions, and union dues are subtracted from gross income to arrive at the net monthly income.
  • Fluctuating (Changing) Income - Adjustments in support orders will not be made for normal changes in earnings. Support orders for seasonal employees, such as construction workers, are ordinarily based on an average of one year’s earnings.
  • Earning Capacity - In certain circumstances, if a party who is able to work chooses on his or her own a lower paying job or fails to work at all, he or she will be considered to have an income equal to his/her earning potential. This also may be true when a party voluntarily (on his or her own) quits work or is fired for misconduct.
  • Retroactive Effect - Support orders are usually made retroactive (go back) to the date that the support complaint is started. Credit may be given for voluntary payments made between the filing date and the date of the support order. Proof may be required to show that these voluntary payments were made. Therefore, it is suggested that any voluntary payments be made by check. The court will decide the retroactive arrears (amount of back support owed) and require a payment on the arrears in addition to the payment of the regular support amount.
  • Deviation (Adjustment) - The guideline figures may be adjusted for circumstances, such as unusually high fixed bills, the age of the children, a duty to support other children and/or spouse, etc.
  • Mortgage Payment - The guidelines assume that the spouse who is living in the marital residence (the family home) will be solely responsible for the mortgage payment, real estate taxes, and homeowner’s insurance. The support order is based on this belief, unless it actually states otherwise. Therefore, if the party who is not living in the home is paying the mortgage, real estate taxes, or insurance, and is found to owe support to the party who is living in the home, credit may be given for paying those expenses.
  • Child Care Expenses - Reasonable child care costs are the responsibility of both parents. The guidelines provide that child care expenses be divided proportionately between the parties based upon their incomes.
  • Private School Expenses - The support guidelines do not consider the costs of private school tuition. If a private school is a reasonable need of the child because of the child’s special needs, or the parties’ prior standard of living, the support award may be adjusted so that the parents share the expense proportionate to the parties' incomes.
  • Direct Contribution of Non-Custodial Parent - The support guidelines assume that the non-custodial parent has regular contact with his/her child. Therefore, adjustments to the guidelines will only be considered if the defendant spends an unusually great or small amount of time with the child or pays an unusually high or low amount of the expenses of the child (i.e., if the defendant has the child overnight 40% of the time or more) or pays an unusually high or low amount of the expenses of the child.
  • Medical Support - The law requires that both parties provide medical support for the children, if able. Therefore, when a support order is issued through Domestic Relations, it may require the plaintiff and the defendant to have medical insurance for the children / plaintiff and to pay part of the medical costs not covered by insurance. Most recent support orders provide for medical support. Also, the law requires that uncovered medical expenses be divided proportionally between the parties according to their incomes. However, the support guidelines assume that the first $250 per person of unreimbursed medical expenses will be paid by the custodial parent. If your order does not include it, you may petition to have your order modified (changed) to add medical support.
  • College Expenses for Adult Children - In the past, college support was allowed by case law for adult children. This case law was overturned in the case of Blue v. Blue. The legislature, in response to the Court's decision in Blue, enacted legislation that took effect June 2, 1993. On October 10, 1995, this statute was declared unconstitutional. Therefore, Domestic Relations can pursue college support for adult children only in limited circumstances. For further information, please contact an attorney.
  • Effect on TANF Recipient (a person who receives Temporary Assistance for Needy Families receives a welfare grant for a child) – The Department of Public Welfare (DPW) requires everyone who receives a TANF grant to file for support against the non-custodial parent. The person who receives TANF must assign (give over) his or her rights to support to the DPW. This means that all money collected from the non-custodial parent on the support order will be turned over to the DPW. If the support award is higher than the total benefits received from the DPW, then the custodial parent and children may no longer receive public assistance and will directly receive all money from the support order. Any arrears (back support) owing to DPW at the time the custodial parent takes the children off welfare must still be paid to the DPW.