When a family breaks apart, it's a very stressful time for everyone involved, particularly in cases where children are involved. In addition to the changes the family will face in terms of their living situation, with parents now living in separate homes and children having to adjust to the situation, there are significant financial questions that result from separation or divorce.
One of the main issues when this happens, is financial. If one partner is financially dependent on the other, how will that work going forward? And what about the children – who will pay for their care and upbringing, and how will that be determined?
In many cases, separating parties are able to come to an agreement on how to resolve these questions. And if that agreement is consistent with what Pennsylvania law requires, a Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas judge is likely to approve it.
In other cases, however, the separating parties can't come to an agreement on financial support issues. In these cases, one or the other can apply to the Domestic Relations section of the Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas and ask for a support order to be entered by the court. This is done by filing a complaint with the Domestic Relations section and will move forward from there.
While you don't need an attorney to file a domestic support complaint, it can be enormously helpful to have an experienced family law attorney advising and representing you through what can sometimes be a confusing and complicated process. The Lento Law Firm Family Law Team has been helping people in Lehigh County secure family support orders for years. They understand the law, the process, and how the courts operate in Lehigh County and can make the entire process much less burdensome and uncertain for you.
Expectation of Financial Support
The law in Pennsylvania requires spouses to support each other “according to their respective abilities.” They must also support their children until they turn 18 (except for emancipated children). In certain cases, for example, where a child has a disability, support obligations for parents may continue past age 18.
These obligations continue to some extent even after parties separate or file for divorce. Which spouse will pay and how much make up some of the main issues of many divorce proceedings. There are two types of support that courts will regulate: child support and spousal support.
Child support is the term used to describe payments made by one spouse to another for the purpose of covering the costs of raising the couple's children.
Spousal support is the term used to describe payments made by one spouse to another to help support the other spouse for a certain period of time.
The extent to which one spouse may be entitled to receive child or spousal support depends on a number of factors, including what stage the couple is at in the separation or divorce process.
In Lehigh County, child support is a payment obligation that is ordered by a judge of the Court of Common Pleas. It is in the form of a court order, and it requires one parent to make regular payments of a certain amount of money to the other parent, to be used by the other parent for the financial support of one or more of the couple's children.
Child support payments are meant to cover the basic needs of the couple's children. These needs typically include food, clothing, and a place to live. In most cases, child support payments are made by the parent who does not have custody of the children to the parent who does have custody.
How Child Support is Calculated
There is a specified way that Pennsylvania law measures what the basic amounts of a child support payment will be. Judges in Lehigh County and other parts of the state use this table to make sure that child support orders comply with the minimum requirements of Pennsylvania law. But depending on the situation between the parties, the actual amount of a child support award may differ from the amounts set forth in the regulations.
A court will consider a number of factors when making a determination of the amount of child support that one spouse must pay to the other. These include:
- The particular needs of the child, for example health or physical conditions that may require more support than in other cases;
- The age of the child, and how their needs may impact the amount of support the parent receives;
- How much the custodial spouse earns and what assets the custodial spouse has;
- Other income that either spouse (or the two of them together) have, such as investment or rental property income;
- What other financial obligations the paying spouse has – including whether they are also paying spousal support in addition to child support.
The main thing that guides judges in Lehigh County when issuing child support orders, however, is not the financial interests of the spouses. It's in the best interests of the child or children. This is the court's primary consideration when making a child support order and is often used to explain changes from the minimum child support amounts set forth in Pennsylvania law.
How Long Child Support Lasts
Child support typically continues until the child turns 18, but in some cases will continue beyond that – for example, where the child has costs related to a disability or medical condition that the older child is not capable of paying for.
Spousal support is meant to help make sure that a financially-dependent spouse doesn't become disadvantaged as a result of separation or divorce. Depending on the type of spousal support it may end when the divorce is finalized or may continue afterwards if the need can be shown.
Types of Spousal Support
Pennsylvania has three main types of spousal support. They vary depending on what stage the divorce proceedings are at and the need of the financially-dependent spouse. These are as follows:
- Spousal support. This is a payment made to help the financially-dependent spouse meet their usual living expenses. It covers the period during which the couples are legally separated but ends when they are formally divorced.
- Alimony Pendente Lite (APL). APL is awarded during the period of the divorce proceedings. It's similar to Spousal Support and can't be ordered at the same time that Spousal Support is being paid. APL is common in situations where one party files for divorce versus the situation where the parties agree to separate.
- Post-Divorce Alimony. In certain situations, courts may order one spouse to make post-divorce alimony payments to the financially-dependent spouse after the divorce is final. This is typically done to prevent the dependent spouse from having to rely on state benefits. The amounts are designed to help the financially-dependent spouse meet reasonable ongoing expenses.
- Other types of support. Another type of support is called “equitable reimbursement” and may be awarded in situations where one spouse needs to complete their education or a training curriculum so that their future earning potential is increased. This could apply in situations where the financially-dependent spouse has a reduced income because they are attending school.
How Spousal Support Is Calculated
When deciding on whether to order alimony, courts in Lehigh County will follow the guidelines set forth in Pennsylvania Law, which lists a total of 17 factors that courts can consider when making a decision about alimony. Some of these factors include:
- The “relative earnings and earning capacities” of the two spouses;
- Their ages and mental and physical conditions;
- Potential inheritances that each spouse may receive;
- The effect that being the custodial parent may have on the earning capacity of the custodial spouse;
- Each spouse's sources of income;
- Any “marital misconduct” that occurred during the marriage
Because of the large number of factors that courts in Lehigh County take into consideration when making orders for spousal support and alimony, the payment amounts will vary considerably.
Court Orders for Child and Spousal Support
As noted above, a spouse that is seeking child support in Lehigh County must file a complaint with the Domestic Relations Section of the Court of Common Pleas. If the court makes an order for child or spousal support, that order will describe in detail what the obligations of the paying spouse are. And because it's in the form of a court order, if the paying spouse violates the order, it's a very serious matter that can result in criminal charges being brought against the paying spouse.
The Court Process in Lehigh County, PA
The Court of Common Pleas in Lehigh County has a separate Family Court Division that handles divorce and other family-related proceedings. While the court does provide some information about how to file for divorce, it specifically notes that it “does not provide information for filing for divorce.” The court's webpage further recommends that people “with assets or debts should seek the advice of an attorney” when filing for divorce.
The following is a summary of what to expect when filing for child or spousal support in Lehigh County. Because each family situation is different, the steps your case can take may vary.
Filing for Support in Lehigh County, PA
Because an alimony request is part of a divorce complaint, there is no need to file a separate request for alimony when filing for divorce. Requests for spousal support or APL are filed with the Lehigh County Domestic Relations Section (DRS), which is a part of the Lehigh County Family Court Division of the Court of Common Pleas.
Note that the DRS does not handle divorce or child custody matters; those are handled by the Lehigh County Family Court Division. But for spousal support, APL, and child support requests, you need to file with the DRS.
These filings can be made online through the PA Child Support Program website, or in person at the Allentown office located at 455 W. Hamilton Street, Room 320, Allentown, PA 18101.
At some point, there will be a support conference with a court officer. This is an important meeting that can have a significant impact on your support requests. In Lehigh County, you'll be required to bring detailed information about your income, expenses, taxes, medical insurance, and a range of other information relating to your income, your assets, and your expenses. The court officer will use this information to calculate a support obligation amount that follows the requirements of Pennsylvania law.
You will typically have a chance to negotiate with your spouse as to the number of support payments to be made, but in the end, if you can't reach an agreement, the support officer will recommend an amount for a hearing officer to consider.
Where agreement can't be reached, a hearing officer will conduct a hearing on the support issue and will make a report that the judge will turn into a support order. If either party disagrees with the hearing officer's report, the party must file what is called an “Exception” to the report. This has specific deadlines and procedures that must be followed for the request to be effective. After this, the judge will typically hold a hearing to decide what the amount of support will be.
The Lehigh County DRS page notes that in “relating to a support case, a party may choose to be represented by an attorney.” It can be enormously helpful to have an attorney who understands Pennsylvania support law with you for the support conference. Your attorney will make sure you have provided all of the documentation the court officer needs to determine the amount of support to award and can prepare you for some of the typical questions you might be asked during the conference, as well as in any subsequent hearing.
Why You Need an Attorney
Divorce proceedings, including child and spousal support requests, can be complicated. There are a host of laws that can have an impact on the final outcome, and it can be enormously helpful to have the help of an experienced family law attorney to make sure your rights are respected, that you meet all deadlines that apply to your case, and that you have someone on your side who will advocate strongly for your rights as a spouse and as a parent.
The Lento Law Firm Family Law Team has been helping clients in Lehigh County and all over Pennsylvania navigate complicated and stressful divorce and support proceedings for years. They understand the laws, the procedures, and, most importantly, how important this is to you.
Appealing a Support Decision in Lehigh County, PA
If you want to appeal a support decision in Lehigh County, you'll need to as the court to reconsider it. There is a specific motion that must be filed to do this, and strict deadlines and procedures that must be followed if it's to be done properly.
Modifying a Court Order
Circumstances change, and courts recognize this. As a result, support orders can be modified, and there is a specific procedure for doing so. And while parties may agree between them to change the terms of a support order, that agreement should be reflected in a formal revised order. If not, there is a risk that the paying spouse could be accused of violating the original support order.
Enforcing a Support Order
Courts in Lehigh County have a number of tools at their disposal if the paying party to a support order violates the order. If you are not receiving payments that a support order directs a paying spouse to make, you will need to bring that to the attention of the court. The Lento Law Firm Family Law Team can help you do so.
Violating a Support Order
Violation of a support order is treated like contempt of court. This can be punished by large fines or jail time. If you are a paying spouse under a support order and can't make the required payments, the Lento Law Firm Family Law Team for help. It is far better to request a modification of an order than it is to simply ignore it, no matter what your reason may be for doing so.
Retain a Lehigh County, Pennsylvania Support Attorney
The Lento Law Firm Family Law Team have been helping people in Lehigh County and across Pennsylvania with family law matters for years. We understand the law, the court procedures, and what's required to make sure that you are treated fairly in all types of divorce-related proceedings – whether you are the spouse seeking support or the spouse being asked to provide the payments.
You should not go through such a difficult and stressful time without help from experienced attorneys. Call us today at 888.535.3686, or use our online contact form to set up a confidential consultation. We understand what a difficult time this can be for everyone involved, and we are here to listen and to help.