Any kind of familial dissolution is extremely emotional, highly stressful, and overwhelmingly uncomfortable. Not only are spouses splitting up, but children are forced to face a new reality. While there are several issues to resolve during these proceedings, some of the bigger ones include financial issues. Couples will have to come to an agreement about who is financially dependent on the other and how they will divide paying for their children's expenses.
Many couples try to reach this decision on their own, without the court's involvement. For those who are unsuccessful with a less formal plan, the only way to get spousal or child support in Fayette County is to petition for it in the Court of Common Pleas.
To make sure you are filing your petition properly, you will need the skill and advice of a family law attorney. LLF Law Firm will leverage its experience to ensure the best possible outcome for your case. Call 888-535-3686 today or schedule a consultation online.
Expectation of Financial Support
According to Pennsylvania law, individuals can expect financial support from their family members. So, when a couple gets married, they are expected to financially support each other during the scope of their marriage (if they can). Moreover, couples who have children are expected to support their children until the age of majority (usually 18).
When spouses decide to get divorced or split up, they can petition the court for spousal or child support. That being said, the amount of support and the length of time it will be paid are subject to a number of things.
In Pennsylvania, child support is defined as payments that are made by one spouse to another to help provide for their children. As such, child support decisions are determined by the court and are established by how much the child's basic needs cost. For example, how much do household utilities cost, or the child's food, clothing, and shelter? Moreover, the court may look at other needs, like being able to partake in extracurricular activities or educational trips. In general, the parent the child lives with the majority of the time (the custodial parent) will be the one receiving child support.
How Child Support Is Calculated
Most states in the U.S. have codified child support awards. This means that they have created a streamlined way for child support to be calculated. However, these calculations are the minimum financial responsibility the parent has for their child.
To ensure children are being provided for appropriately, Pennsylvania has expanded on the statutory child support amounts. The court will modify the amount listed in the statute to reflect what this particular child, or children, actually needs. They will look at:
- The child's age.
- What kind of specific support the child needs, if necessary.
- Other household income.
- Spouses' income and assets.
- Financial obligations the spouses might have.
- And what is in the child's best interest.
For instance, if the child has a chronic illness that requires around-the-clock nursing care or if the custodial parent makes significantly more than the non-custodial parent, the court will factor that into their decision.
How Long Child Support Lasts
In most cases, child support payments will last until the child (or children) turns 18 years old. There are times when child support payments will last beyond the age of majority, including orders that require the parent to pay until the child graduates from college.
Spousal support does not require that the couple have children. Instead, it only requires that one spouse continue to support the other spouse financially. The court will decide how long the support will last – sometimes it lasts until a divorce is finalized; other times, it can last for several years or until the payee spouse finds a new career. Whatever the case, this is also a court order and must be paid or risk criminal charges.
Types of Spousal Support
Pennsylvania law stipulates that there are different types of spousal support. However, they were all created to protect the financially dependent spouse and ensure they are not left disadvantaged. The type of support you will want to petition for will likely rely on what stage of the divorce process you are currently going through.
- Spousal support. Payments made after separation, but before a formal divorce. They are made to ensure the spouse can pay their reasonable expenses and meet their basic living expenses.
- Alimony Pendente Lite (APL). Typically awarded while a divorce decree is pending. It cannot be active at the same time as spousal support.
- Post-divorce alimony. Once a divorce is finalized, the court can order one spouse to pay the other for a period of time. The point of this type of alimony is to prevent the payee spouse from having to rely on state benefits so they can pay their reasonable ongoing expenses.
Equitable reimbursement is another form of financial support. Under this law, spouses whose income temporarily drops after divorce can request that their ex gives them support while they complete their education or training that will increase their earning potential.
How Spousal Support is Calculated
Unlike child support, there is no automatic right to spousal support or alimony. Therefore, you need to petition the court to determine if you can receive such support.
For the most part, the court will only order spousal support or alimony if they believe it is reasonable and necessary. To make that decision, the court will look at:
- How long the couple was married.
- Their individual earning potential.
- The limitations on their earning potential.
- What their actual income is.
- And any other anticipated income they might be getting.
Court Orders for Child Support
For the most part, the spouse who needs financial assistance will file for child and/or spousal support. If the court believes that financial assistance is warranted, it will determine how much and how long the paying party is required to help. Despite the fact that this is a civil court order if a court determines that it has been violated in any way, the violating party may face criminal penalties.
The Court Process in Fayette County, PA
Child support, spousal support, and alimony requests all follow long and exhausting procedures, including interviews, conferences, and court hearings. The proceedings can be highly overwhelming and uncomfortable. Working with a skilled family law attorney can help alleviate those anxieties.
Filing for Support in Fayette County, PA
In order for a party to collect child and/or spousal support, they must petition the court for it. Alimony requests are usually included in a divorce complaint, but if a party is petitioning for APL or child support, they must go through the Fayette County Domestic Relations Office. Further, if you already have a child support or spousal support order and are hoping to amend it, you must contact their office as well for the next steps.
Child support and alimony requests can be petitioned for during divorce proceedings. However, they will usually require a separate conference to discuss the issues before a court is willing to resolve them. Actually, most child support and spousal support discussions, as well as negotiations about how the property should be divided, will be held in a separate court meeting.
Whatever support request you make, the conference will be overseen by a Master. Masters are court-appointed attorneys who specialize in the type of support being negotiated. The point of their presence is to mediate between the parties, giving them the time and attention they need to discuss their worries and requests. Once you have a conference date and time, it is important to ask if your attorney can participate. There are some instances where the Masters will not allow them to. Knowing up front will ensure you are not being taken advantage of on conference day.
During the conference, the Masters will try to facilitate a support agreement between the parties. But if they are unsuccessful, the petition for support will be heard in court. A judge will review the arguments, facts, and evidence and decide what kind of support should be awarded, if any, and how long it will last.
LLF Law Firm Family Law Team will be by your side every step of the way, coaching you through the conference and, if necessary, through the court proceedings.
Why You Need an Attorney
While you do not need an attorney to file a petition for child or spousal support in Fayette County, PA, it is still a good idea. Having an attorney in your corner from the moment you decide you need support is the best way to ensure your case is well-presented and maintained.
These types of proceedings are overwhelming for most parties. There are so many emotions at play, and everyone is trying to get a leg up on the other. Because of this, parties tend to forget key pieces of information, strict deadlines, or even the proper paperwork when fighting for child or spousal support.
Individuals who decide to petition the court without legal counsel are generally unsuccessful. Unsuccessful parties end up having to pay high sums of support or, if they are the petitioner, end up not getting as much as they need. When support payments are off-balance, it can make it hard to provide for yourself and your family.
Appealing a Support Decision in Cambria County, PA
Often, a party will feel like the decision made by the court is unfair or disagreeable. As such, either party has the right to file a Motion for Reconsideration with the Family Court in Fayette County. Whether an appeal is approved, though, is dependent on whether the petitioning party met the deadlines, filed the necessary paperwork, or if they have grounds to even file the petition. Working with an attorney on your appeal is a solid way to ensure it was not only filed correctly but that your argument is sound and well-advised.
Modifying a Court Order
Either party has the right to increase or decrease the child or spousal support order by petitioning the court for a modification. Sometimes, though, the parties will decide to create their own modification agreement. While this is acceptable, the original agreement will still be valid until the informal agreement is filed with the court and ratified.
Enforcing a Court Order
Under Pennsylvania law, courts have the authority to compel a party to pay child support, spousal support, or any other type of alimony order. If a party refuses to pay the required amount, the court may do one of the following:
- Input additional judgments against them.
- Commandeer up to 50% of their wages.
- Take over their property, including payments they get or investments they make.
- Require them to supply collateral or security to warrant that they will make future payments.
- Add interest to the payments they missed.
Violating a Support Order
Court orders are legally binding. That means that child support, spousal support, and alimony orders must be paid. If they are not, the court has every right to charge the offender with contempt, which is a criminal charge that can lead to up to six months in prison and significant fines.
When you have a hard time making your support payments, or you discover your ex is not paying them, it is important to petition the court for help. If you wait, you run the risk of being subjected to harsh consequences, like not being able to pay bills, having your wages garnered, or losing significant assets and your freedom of movement.
For example, when you go to purchase a home or apply to rent an apartment, the applications will ask if you owe any type of support, how much, and how often. The mortgage lender or rental property will review your credit and determine if it will affect your ability to move forward with your application. Much of the time, it does. Which is why working with an attorney from the beginning is so important.
Retain a Fayette County, Pennsylvania Support Attorney
The only way to protect your right to child and spousal support is to hire a Fayette County family law attorney. While these are civil court orders, they can have lasting consequences on other areas of your life – including potential criminal charges and punishments.
The LLF Law Firm Family Law Team has helped dozens of families and individuals all around Pennsylvania. They understand what you are up against and will work tirelessly to ensure you are not being taken advantage of or missing deadlines. If you or someone you love is going through a family support issue, LLF Law Firm can help. Call 888-535-3686 today for help, or schedule a consultation online.