When you're going through a separation or divorce, the last thing you want to be concerned about is the financial aspects of the change in your family dynamics. However, to protect your family's best interests, it's important that you understand what type of support may be applicable in your situation, whether you are filing for support or subject to a family court order.
At the LLF Law Firm, our attorneys understand what you're going through. We know how challenging the financial aspects of divorce and separation proceedings can be, and we're here to guide you through it. To arrange a meeting to discuss your financial situation, call us at 888.535.3686 or leave us a message through our virtual form.
Types of Financial Support in Armstrong County PA
When married, spouses are expected to support each other financially to the best of their ability. This obligation also extends to their children. However, when a relationship breaks down, spouses are not necessarily expected to continue supporting each other financially. They are, however, expected to support their children, which could mean paying – or receiving – child support.
Below, we will explore how child and spousal support work in Armstrong County.
Child support is a payment made to cover the essential living expenses of raising a child. It covers the child's basic needs, such as nutrition, housing, clothing, utilities, and medical care.
If a child has requirements, such as a complex health condition, then this should also be considered when determining child support payments.
Child support is typically paid by the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent. In other words, it's usually paid by the parent who does not habitually live with the child. This is because the custodial parent has day-to-day responsibility for the child's upkeep.
Calculating Child Support
In PA, the starting point for calculating child support payments is a codified schedule. This schedule helps judges determine what may be a fair or reasonable amount to cover a child's welfare needs. However, it truly is only a starting point. Irrespective of the schedule, a judge must prioritize what's in the child's best interests.
When determining what level of child support is in a child's best interests, the judge must consider, among other factors:
- The child's current standard of living.
- Whether they have complex medical and/or cognitive needs.
- If they participate in any special schooling or activities.
- The custodial parent's income and earning potential, i.e., how much they could earn based on their training and education.
- The non-custodial parent's income and earning potential.
Only once a judge weighs up these conflicting priorities can they determine what level of child support may be applicable in each case. For example, say the custodial parent has a higher earning capacity than the non-custodial parent. The judge may consider this a relevant factor when deciding what's a fair amount to compel the paying spouse to pay.
At the LLF Law Firm, our Family Law Team knows how challenging it is to calculate child support payments. To help you better understand your rights and responsibilities and to ensure your child's welfare is protected, we encourage you to contact us to schedule a meeting.
Duration of Child Support Payments
It's impossible to say for certain how long child support payments will last. However, the default position is that child support in Armstrong County lasts until a child turns 18 or is legally emancipated. In some cases, child support will last longer, e.g., if the child has severe or complex cognitive or medical needs. This is common in situations where a child will have limited ability to function independently as an adult despite reaching the age of majority.
Spousal Support in PA
There are, broadly, three categories of spousal support in PA. The type of support that a spouse may file for depends largely on whether they are separated or formally divorced.
- Alimony: Alimony is a type of spousal support you may be most familiar with. Although it's not a permanent or long-term solution, it does provide a dependent spouse with financial support after the dissolution of the marriage. It helps the dependent spouse transition to greater financial independence post-divorce.
- Spousal Support: A dependent spouse who needs help with basic and essential living expenses may file for support while the couple is separated but before they formally divorce.
- Alimony Pendente Lite (APL): When there's a divorce action pending, one party can file for APL. APL lasts until the legal process of the divorce action concludes.
Some financial matters, such as property distribution, may be settled during the divorce proceedings. However, child and/or spousal support levels are often decided separately.
Valuing Spousal Support in Armstrong County
The courts typically consider what is reasonable and necessary when quantifying a spousal support claim. This is because, as we've noted, there's no automatic right to financial support enduring beyond the duration of a marriage. What's reasonable and necessary depends on various factors, including the duration of the marriage, the dependent spouse's income potential, and anything that prohibits them from working, e.g., caring for young children.
Until your entire financial circumstances are considered, it's not possible to accurately value a spousal support claim. Our attorneys can explain what level of support may apply to your family after discussing your financial situation in depth.
How to File for Child and Spousal Support
In PA, there's a single process for applying for child and/or spousal support. In all cases, the spouse seeking support must file a formal application with the court – we can summarize the major steps in the process as follows.
The Initial Application
In Armstrong County, the spouse claiming support should file online or in person by visiting the Domestic Relations Office for Armstrong County. These offices are located within the Court of Common Pleas at:
500 E. Market Street, Suite 100
Kittanning, PA 16201
You can visit the courthouse between 8 am and 4.30 pm, Monday through Friday.
Once the spouse files for support, there are two ways to proceed: a support conference and a court hearing.
The Support Conference
Typically, a support conference is the next step after one spouse files for child support. It's less formal than a court hearing before a family court judge, and it's mediated by a specialist Master who facilitates the discussion. The goal is to arrive at a fair outcome; however, should this not be possible, then the matter can proceed before a family court judge.
It's not uncommon to resolve some matters at a support conference but still have one or two issues outstanding. This is not a bad thing, as it allows the family court judge to focus primarily on a singular issue. Our Family Law Team can explain how support conferences work in more detail, and we can assist you throughout the process.
The Court Hearing
At a court hearing, the judge hears from both parties and, based on the evidence presented, determines a fair award for child support and/or spousal support. If you do not attend your hearing, it's likely that the decision will go against you, as the judge will base their decision on only one side of the story. It's imperative, therefore, that you attend your hearing.
Do you need legal representation at a family court hearing for child support? The LLF Law Firm Family Law Team can help.
Consequences of a Support Order in Armstrong County, PA
As court-issued documents, support orders have consequences. For the paying spouse, these consequences can include fines and/or even jail time if they forfeit their payment arrangements. This is because support order violations are considered criminal rather than civil offenses, and so the penalties can be severe.
Not all support order violations carry such steep penalties. However, the courts have various tools at their disposal for enforcing civil support orders.
Court Order Enforcement
Support orders are binding and enforceable, and violations can result in significant penalties. Should the paying spouse default on any payments or violate the court order in any way, then the courts can take action, including:
- Obliging the paying spouse to put up collateral.
- Adding interest to overdue payments.
- Seizing wages and/or property up to the value of the overdue amount.
- Passing further court orders against the individual.
If you're subject to a court order and you cannot comply with your obligations for any reason, then you need urgent legal advice from our Family Law Team.
How to Appeal an Armstrong County Court Order
Filing a “Motion for Reconsideration” with the family court is an option for any party who wishes to appeal a civil court order in Armstrong County. Bear in mind, though, that the appeal process is complex, and even securing an appeal hearing is no guarantee that an order will be overturned.
Whether you're the paying or receiving spouse, you must present evidence to support your application for an appeal. You must demonstrate to the court why the appeal should be granted. This can be a complex process, and it's advisable to have legal support. Contact the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team for assistance.
Modifying a Support Order
Child support orders are designed to meet the needs of your family at a specific time. And, where possible, the judge will consider your child's ongoing needs. However, it's accepted that child support requirements typically evolve over time. That's why it's possible to modify or amend a court order for spousal or child support in Armstrong County.
You may do this by informally agreeing to new payment arrangements with your spouse. Or you can petition the court formally for a modification. However, even if you choose to informally agree to a new payment schedule, you must have the court confirm or ratify the agreement before it's effective. Otherwise, the existing order remains in force, even if both parties are happy to proceed with a new arrangement.
Do You Need a Family Law Attorney?
It's important to remember that while you're not legally obliged to retain a lawyer, there are many reasons why you should consider doing so.
- Your spouse may retain their own legal counsel. At the very least, they may seek general legal advice or have an initial meeting with a lawyer. If you do not have an attorney on your side, you're already at a disadvantage.
- Financial matters are highly emotional and potentially volatile, especially as they relate to children. An attorney will ensure that your children remain at the center of negotiations and that their best interests are respected at every stage.
- Filing errors or missing deadlines can be fatal to any child support or spousal support claim. Your lawyer can ensure that you meet your obligations and follow the correct procedures.
- You may have legal rights and options which you are unaware of. An attorney will listen to you, learn about your family situation, and explain how the law applies to your case. Specifically, they can ensure you understand what level of support may be applicable, whether you are the paying or receiving spouse.
Do not hesitate to retain our services if you're dealing with child support matters in Armstrong County.
How the LLF Law Firm Team Can Help
Do you need help with a spousal or child support order in Armstrong County, PA? The procedures involved are complex, so it's best to get legal advice before proceeding. Our Family Law Team has significant experience in handling support order matters in PA, whether it's assisting with the initial application or filing an appeal. You do not need to face this stressful time alone. Not when our family law attorneys are waiting and ready to assist.