It's never easy when a family breaks down or separation leads to divorce. To protect yourself and your loved ones during this stressful time, you need to understand your legal rights to financial support. The rules can be complex, and it's crucial you know what to expect.
While many parties can reach informal, out-of-court arrangements, this is not always the case. And given how contentious support matters can be, it's usually in your best interests to get legal advice before agreeing to payment arrangements. The Family Law Team at the LLF Law Firm can help you file for support or modify existing arrangements. Call now at 888.535.3686 or reach us online to schedule a meeting.
Financial Support for Spouses and Children
When you're married in PA, there's an expectation to support your spouse financially for the duration of the marriage. You're also expected to support your children. To facilitate this, courts can make orders for two types of payment arrangements: child support and spousal support.
- Child Support: Payments designed to meet a child's basic needs. They're usually made by the non-custodial parent to the custodial parent to cover things such as day-to-day living expenses.
- Spousal Support: Payments that help a financially dependent spouse adjust to the changing circumstances. These payments vary in duration depending on the situation.
Calculating Child Support in Lycoming County
Courts will prioritize the child's best interests when determining child support payments. This is the case even if other factors may suggest that lower support payments could be suitable. These other factors include:
- Spousal income.
- Paying spouse's existing financial obligations.
- Investments, rental properties, and other income.
- Child's age.
- Specific support requirements, e.g., special schooling, complex medical conditions.
For example, say a child's living standards would be seriously affected by modest support payments. The courts may impose a higher award, even if the paying spouse already has other support obligations.
How much will a person receive in support payments? Technically, there's a codified system in PA for judges to follow. However, the figures are a guide, and as mentioned, the child's interests will be prioritized.
The exact method of calculating support payments is complex and should be discussed with your attorney so you know what to expect.
How Long Does Child Support Last?
Child support usually ends when the child turns 18. This is when they're considered to have reached the age of majority in PA. However, it may end earlier if the child is emancipated.
Can child support payments endure for longer? Yes. If the child has especially complex needs – such as a significant cognitive or physical disability – they may require support into adulthood. Court orders allow for this.
Spousal Support in Lycoming County
As mentioned, depending on your financial situation, you may be entitled to spousal support for at least a short time following divorce. The level of support usually depends on factors such as economic circumstances, earning potential, and even the stage of divorce proceedings you are currently at.
There's no automatic right for spousal support in PA to endure in the long term. If you're unsure what the implications are for you and your family, our Family Law Team can help.
Types of Spousal Support
Spousal support typically falls into one of three categories:
- Alimony Pendente Lite (APL): APL is usually triggered when a party files for divorce. At this point, they may be separated, but they're not formally – or legally – divorced. Courts may grant APL while the divorce action is pending.
- Post-divorce alimony: Financially dependent spouses may have some reasonable expenses even after finalizing a divorce. Post-divorce alimony makes allowances for such support payments if it will prevent them from relying on state benefits. The amount awarded is highly variable from case to case.
- Spousal support: Spousal support protects a financially dependent spouse during the period between separating and finalizing the divorce. It covers basic living expenses during this time.
The LLF Law Firm Team can confirm what level of support may apply in your case after reviewing your circumstances.
How to Calculate Spousal Support
Every marriage – indeed, every relationship – is entirely unique. As such, there's no straightforward way to determine how spousal support is calculated. And the courts will only award alimony if they find that it's reasonable and necessary in the circumstances.
To determine whether an award is reasonable and necessary, courts must consider factors including:
- Each spouse's actual income.
- The earning potential for each spouse (based on, e.g., qualifications and current occupation).
- Restrictions on earning potential, e.g., raising a child or caring for a vulnerable person.
- Anticipated income, e.g., family inheritances.
The judge will also take the duration of the marriage into consideration. For example, in a 20-year marriage, one spouse may depend heavily on their partner for financial support due to raising a family, even if they have a reasonably high earning potential.
How to File for Spousal or Child Support in Lycoming County
There's a specific process for seeking spousal or child support across PA, including Lycoming County. While your attorney can explain the specifics in more detail, here is an overview of how the process works.
Filing for Support
If you're filing for divorce, you don't need to petition for alimony separately. It's already included in the complaint. However, you can file for spousal support, or APL, online or by visiting the Lycoming County Domestic Relations Office. The County Courthouse is located at:
48 W 3rd St
Williamsport, PA 17701
When you get a divorce, the decree ends the marriage. It does not, however, solve the issue of financial support.
In many cases, spouses choose to include support discussions as part of the wider divorce negotiations. This means that there's a significant opportunity to resolve child and spousal support matters less formally, through negotiations rather than through formal court hearings.
The more issues that spouses can resolve at the negotiation stage, the clearer any major contentious issues will be. This means the judge will only need to consider one or two points, which is quicker than considering multiple outstanding issues.
Support conferences are overseen by Masters, who specialize in either spousal or child support. These experienced individuals act as mediators. They listen to both sides and attempt to facilitate an agreeable resolution. In some cases, attorneys can actively participate on their clients' behalf. Your attorney can explain what role they may play, depending on the facts of your case.
Court Orders for Support
The process begins when the spouse files for the support required. If there's no agreement reached through the support conference, the case proceeds to a hearing. At the hearing, a family court judge can determine whether to award or dismiss the petition. You are entitled to legal representation throughout this process. A lawyer can negotiate on your behalf and be your advocate in the courtroom.
If you don't appear on the scheduled court date, the judge can only consider the other party's arguments. They will not consider your side of the story – as such, it's in your best interests to attend any scheduled court hearings.
If the PA family court judge grants the petitioner's request, they'll issue a court order that confirms the paying spouse's obligations. This order, if awarded, is binding and must be followed. Violations can attract serious – and sometimes criminal – penalties. If you're at all unsure how to comply with a court order for support, call the LLF Law Firm for help.
Appealing a Lycoming County Child Support Decision
You can normally appeal a support order in Lycoming County. The procedure is complex, and there are deadlines to adhere to, but the process involves filing a Motion for Reconsideration. The motion should be filed with the Family Court in Lycoming County.
Making an appeal is no guarantee of success. Consult our Family Law Team before filing an appeal. Not only can we ensure you meet the compulsory deadlines, but we will explain if you have grounds for appeal and how best to make your case.
Court Order Modification
It's not uncommon for either party to require changes to the support order. For example, financial circumstances can change, and you may be unable to meet your obligations, or you may require different levels of assistance.
Either party can typically petition the court to modify the order. However, there's always the option of reaching a less formal agreement with the other spouse. You can agree to increase or decrease payments and then petition the court to ratify or confirm the new agreement. If you don't seek the court's approval, the original order stands, and any deviation is considered a breach of the court order. This is the case even if both parties are happy to change the payment arrangements. Always get the court's approval for any change to child or spousal support – however small the change may be.
Can the Courts Enforce a PA Child or Spousal Support Order?
Yes. Child and spousal support orders are binding legal obligations imposed on one party by the court. As such, judges can punish violations of the order or any attempts to ignore the order. Court enforcement action includes:
- Seizure of wages and/or property to cover any delinquent amount(s).
- Adding interest to future payments.
- Requiring collateral, or security, for future payments made by the paying spouse.
- Making further court orders against the paying spouse for the delinquent amount(s).
What Happens if a Support Order Is Violated?
Support order violations are potentially serious. They are, after all, violations of court judgments. Should they violate the order, the paying spouse may face contempt charges. These are criminal rather than civil charges, and the penalties include up to six months in jail and monetary fines.
To reduce the likelihood of contempt charges, the paying spouse should seek a modification of the court order. This is an opportunity to show cause and explain why you are unable to meet your obligations.
If you're facing enforcement action for a support order violation, or you are in financial difficulty and cannot uphold your obligations, contact the LLF Law Firm right away for assistance.
Do You Need an Attorney for Child or Spousal Support in PA?
There's no rule saying that you must hire a lawyer to file for support or challenge a support order. However, just because it's not a legal requirement doesn't mean it's not in your best interests to consider representation.
- Family law matters are often contentious and, sometimes, volatile. However, an attorney will not let emotions influence negotiations. They will endeavor to keep the process civil and achieve a resolution that is satisfactory to all involved.
- Courts have strict deadlines for filing paperwork. Miss these deadlines, and you could lose your right to file for support or challenge a court order. The LLF Law Firm Team will ensure all paperwork is submitted on time so you have a fair chance of pursuing your legal rights.
- If you have no legal experience, you may be unsure what evidence could help your case. This is completely understandable. That's why your lawyer will consider all the documents and records available to determine what evidence may best support your position.
Our Family Law Team has the experience, dedication, and commitment to help you resolve your child and/or spousal support concerns. If you retain our services, we will immediately look to protect your legal position and build a compelling case in your favor.
Hire a Lycoming County, PA, Family Attorney
Whether you wish to file for support or you're challenging a support order, the LLF Law Firm can help. The court procedures involved in any family law matter are complex, but we will keep the process simple and ensure you understand your legal rights. We will protect your interests and represent you at any support hearing, if necessary, and we'll explain your options if you wish to appeal a support order.
You do not need to handle family law matters alone. This is already a stressful enough time for you and your loved ones – let our attorneys take some of the weight off your shoulders. Contact the LLF Law Firm Team now by leaving a message online or calling 888.535.3686. Our experienced attorneys are waiting to help.