Parents have an obligation to financially support their minor children. Spouses have an obligation to financially support each other, which may sometimes continue even after a divorce.
Determining a reasonable amount of either spousal or child support can be complicated. It's more than just providing the bare minimum, and Pennsylvania recognizes that a multitude of factors can enter into determining the proper level of financial support for a child or former spouse. Just as each family is different, so too is each decision on an appropriate amount of support.
In an ideal world, parents or spouses sit down, have a brief conversation, and reach an agreement on support payments. The real world is seldom that simple, however, especially when a situation involves someone's children or a broken marriage and has the potential to be highly emotional. What seems reasonable to one person may seem extravagant or miserable to someone else.
When support discussions are acrimonious, attorneys can be intermediaries. They can help their clients focus on logic over emotion.
Even when parties mostly agree or are committed to remaining civil, having legal representation has several advantages. Among other benefits, attorneys can help their clients consider potential problems or issues and create an agreement that has the flexibility to adapt to changes.
While Pennsylvania provides guides to help determine support when you're discussing support payments, either for children or spouses, you need someone to advocate for you and consider what's in your best interests.
About Franklin County
As of 2022, an estimated 156,000 people live in Franklin County. Although approximately a two-hour drive from both Washington, DC, and Baltimore, Franklin County is considered part of the larger Washington–Baltimore combined statistical area.
With slightly less than 60 percent of its population listed as married, Franklin County has a marriage rate that is about 20 percent higher than the rest of Pennsylvania and the United States. With eleven percent of the population listing their marital status as divorced, the county has a similar divorce rate to both Pennsylvania and the United States.
To file for support in Franklin County, you must be a current resident of one of the following boroughs, townships, or census-designated places/unincorporated communities. Whether you work or previously lived in the area or your spouse or child resides in this county does not matter for purposes of child or spousal support. You need to file in your own county of residence.
- Mont Alto
- Antrim Township
- Fannett Township
- Greene Township
- Guilford Township
- Hamilton Township
- Letterkenny Township
- Lurgan Township
- Metal Township
- Montgomery Township
- Peters Township
- Quincy Township
- Southampton Township
- St. Thomas Township
- Warren Township
- Washington Township
Census Designated Places and Unincorporated Communities:
- Blue Ridge Summit
- Fort Loudon
- Pen Mar
- State Line
- Wayne Heights
Some municipalities may straddle county lines. Shippensburg, for example, is in both Franklin and Cumberland Counties. Which county a resident files in depends on where they live in that area.
What Is the Franklin County Domestic Relations Section?
Individuals who reside in one of the above areas can file for child or spousal support with the Franklin County Domestic Relations Section. The Domestic Relations Section provides the following services:
- Locating absent parents
- Establishing paternity
- Establishing support orders, including medical support
- Enforcing support orders
- Modifying support
On occasion, the office will also handle the collection and distribution of support payments. This, however, is not standard policy and is the exception to how most support payments are handled.
What Is Child Support?
Child support is when one parent pays money to provide their child with:
- Medical support and bills
- Educational costs
- Other expenses as needed
Courts will also look at the child's current standard of living when making a determination. Whether parents were married is a separate issue from child support. Parents do not have to be married in order for parents to pay child support.
Calculating Child Support in Franklin County
Pennsylvania uses a measurement system to determine child support payments. Child support generally lasts until a child turns 18, but courts may make exceptions, such as when a child has a severe disability.
Parents should not confuse child support with custody. One parent may still have support payments even when they share joint legal and physical custody of their child with the other parent. While a court may consider how much time each parent is responsible for the child, it will only be one of several factors considered.
Parents may use the state's calculator as a starting point for determining their potential child support, but they should not rely on this number. The actual support payment may vary significantly depending on their circumstances and what's in a child's best interests.
The state has a rubric for determining the bare minimum of child support depending on the number of children and a parent's income. Similar to the calculator, parents should not rely on this number as other factors may increase payments.
Factors in Child Support
Three considerations that run through most child support decisions:
- What's in a child's best interests?
- What is a child's current standard of living?
- What puts a child's different living situations on similar footing?
Similar to custody disputes, the overarching concern through child support discussions is what's in a child's best interests.
Courts don't expect parents to provide identical living arrangements, but they do want children to have some consistency. Courts try to avoid children going between a mansion and a rundown apartment. Such differences can potentially affect a child's relationship with their parent or allow one parent to use a superior financial position to alienate the other parent.
As much as possible, courts want to encourage the parent-child relationship. One way this can be done is through child support payments to provide a similar experience between a child's two homes.
Especially when parents break up and split up a household, courts want to consider what a child's standard of living has been and to develop some level of consistency and minimize the disruption to a child's life. Child support considers what is each child's normal, and that can vary depending on the child and family.
Pennsylvania states that parents have an obligation to provide medical support if it's available at a reasonable cost, which is an amount that is less than five percent of a parent's monthly income.
High Net Worth Child Support
Recognizing that a child's standard of living has a connection to parents' income, Pennsylvania has a separate rubric for individuals who qualify as high net worth. As of 2023, when parents' combined income exceeds $360,000 annually ($30,000 a month), they fall into the category of high income.
Similar to “standard” child support, minimum support payments again depend on parents' income and the number of children. For example, two children of high-income parents qualify for a minimum of $4,250 a month. These support payments increase by 4% for any amount over $360,000 a year.
Child Support Factors
Courts may consider the following when determining child support:
- A child's age
- Each parent's income
- Non-wage income, such as money from rental properties or investments
- Each parent's assets and liabilities, including if a parent is paying child support for other children
- If a child has any unusual needs
These factors aren't exclusive. Courts may include other considerations or extenuating circumstances when determining child support.
Modifying Child Support
Even after parents reach an agreement for child support, that amount is not set in stone. Either parent may petition for a change to child support.
Modifications are generally made due to change in income or other circumstances. Commonly cited reasons include:
- Loss of income
- Increase or decrease in income
- Parents are living together or have reconciled
- Other financial changes
Unlike with spousal support, one parent remarrying does not automatically mean child support payments will end or change. Unless the new spouse plans to adopt the child, the new spouse has no obligation to provide for their stepchild.
As of 2021, one hot topic about child support modification revolves around inflation. Steeply rising prices mean that the same amount of child support doesn't buy the same amount of products or services - and this is in addition to the increase in education costs outpacing inflation.
One caveat: When requesting a modification solely based on inflation, remember that the other parent, if their salary has not been adjusted, is also contending with the same loss of buying power.
In general, both parents should consider including an annual cost-of-living increase as part of their child support agreement. While such an agreement may not be able to anticipate incidents such as the 2021 inflation, it can minimize having to modify the original agreement, potentially up to every year.
What Is Spousal Support?
Spousal support, or alimony, begins when a couple separates and may last after a divorce is finalized. The goal of spousal support is to provide a financial base for one spouse as they prepare for their life after marriage. Spousal support is not automatic, and courts will consider several factors when determining its necessity.
Pennsylvania recognizes three types of spousal support. They are:
- Alimony pendente lite, which is for when a couple is separate but not yet divorced
- Post-divorce alimony, which is paid once a divorce is final
- Equitable reimbursement, which is not alimony in the traditional sense but a payment that is based on one spouse's financial contributions to the other, such as school tuition
Some factors courts may consider for alimony pendente lite or alimony:
- The length of the marriage
- Each spouse's income and separate property
- Each spouse's earning potential
- The standard of living during the marriage
- The spouse's ages
- How childcare responsibilities, if any, would affect one spouse's earning power
- If other spouse needs support while training or attending school ahead of re-entering the workforce
- If either spouse committed marital misconduct
- What contributes each spouse made to the marriage
A spouse in their 50s who has been married for 30 years and stayed home to allow their spouse to focus on their career would likely receive alimony. This spouse would have difficulty re-entering the workforce, and their contribution to their household allowed their spouse to focus on their career and its progression. The couple's standard of living would also be considered in determining spousal support.
In comparison, a spouse in their 20s who has been married for two years and works full time would be less likely to receive any spousal support.
As the name suggests, equitable reimbursement focuses on “paying back” a spouse who assumed a financial burden by assisting the other spouse. In general, equitable reimbursement comes into play when a couple divorces before realizing the advantages of this financial burden. A commonly cited example is one spouse supporting the other through college, only for the college-graduate spouse to end the marriage after getting a good job.
Length of Alimony
Alimony may be short- or long-term. Alimony is for a shorter, set period of time when it's intended to provide a cushion to allow someone to transition into their new life. For those with limited earning potential, alimony may be long-term or even indefinite.
Alimony generally ends if a spouse remarries. The new marriage essentially ends any financial responsibility the former spouses had for each other.
Not all child or spousal support cases will go in front of a judge. Couples or parents may agree outside of court or in mediation. In Franklin County, the point of contact for all matters of support is the Domestic Relations office.
As of 2023, the county continues to rely heavily on video conferencing for meetings to establish and/or enforce a support order.
Protect Your Future
Child and spousal support exists to provide a needed financial foundation. Child support can help a child ease into the transition of having two homes or provide needed financial support. Child support is often about more than the bare minimum of support.
Spousal support is a more difficult determination. The circumstances of the divorce and the details of each spouse's life can have an enormous influence on a spousal support order. If you need help with an issue relating to child or spousal support, contact LLF Law Firm Family Law Team at 888-535-3686 or online.