Many questions arise from matters of separation, divorce, and child raising, especially those pertaining to custody, financial support, and living situations. In some cases, the partners can come to a mutual agreement, although this is not always the case. In cases where the marriage is long, finances are intertwined, or one spouse depends on the other, reaching an agreement may be much more complicated and drawn out.
Souses may individually file a complaint or modify an existing order through the Domestic Relations Section of the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County, Pennsylvania, and having an experienced Family Law Team is in your best interest. The LLF Law Firm has assisted many clients in similar situations in Washington County and wants to help you achieve the best possible outcome for either child support or spousal support. Please call us at (888) 535-3686 or tell us about your case online.
Expectations of Financial Support
Pennsylvania Law explicitly states that spouses must support each other to the best of their ability. The law covers children's expenses until they are emancipated, meaning reaching 18 or graduating from high school, whichever occurs last. In some instances, such as when the child is disabled, it might be necessary to support them past the age of 18 or emancipation. When filing for divorce, the ex-spouses must decide who will be responsible for paying financial support. The Domestic Relations Section is “responsible for the establishment, collection, and enforcement of child and spousal support obligations.” Child support is defined as a court-ordered sum that goes from one partner to the other towards the costs of child-raising. Spousal support is a court-ordered sum that goes from one partner to another for individual financial assistance for a set period.
This court-ordered sum usually goes to the partner who is granted custody of the child. It is a routine payment that must be adhered to and is responsible for covering the child's basic needs, such as “money for the care, maintenance, and living expenses of a child.” The Domestic Relations Section and the Pennsylvania Automated Child Support Enforcement System deal with all aspects of child support.
How Child Support Is Calculated
In Washington County, PA, the sum that the ex-spouse is ordered to pay is enforced by the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure as set forth by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. There is a child support mathematical formula in place that the courts use to determine support based on a variety of factors, including:
- The income and assets of both spouses
- The amount the Supreme Court deems necessary for adequately supporting the child
- The number of children and their needs, i.e., special needs or specific health conditions
The Washington County Courts write that this formula is mathematically calculated and has nothing to do with the personal opinions of the judge or any other court employee, such as the officers involved in the process.
In Washington County, courts issue spousal support to ensure that one spouse continues to support the other. This short-term payment is only in place until the court receives a divorce decree.
In Pennsylvania, three types of spousal support exist, and each depends on factors such as the state of the divorce proceedings.
- Spousal Support: To ensure their basic needs are met, short-term payments that go to the financially dependent ex-spouse when the couple is separated but not legally divorced.
- Alimony Pendente Lite (APL): A short-term payment that can be granted during the divorce filing, but the divorce must be pending, and the receiving spouse can't get both spousal support and APL.
- Alimony: Long-term payments following divorce that are granted to the dependent spouse to allow them to, within reason, cover their current and future expenses without solely relying on state aid.
Calculating Spousal Support
Washington County, PA, offers a general framework for calculating support. The amount involves taking the paying spouse's pre-tax income and subtracting the following:
- Health insurance expenses
- Federal, state, and local taxes
- Required retirement deductions
- Union dues and mandatory work expenses
The court must deem the complaint necessary and justifiable, and the filing spouses are not immediately entitled to alimony.
Court Orders for Child and Spousal Support
Generally, the spouse filing the complaint seeks financial support through spousal and/or child support. A PA Family Judge will decide whether to honor the complaint; should they honor it, a civil court order will be issued to the paying spouse. The order must be strictly adhered to, or the paying spouse may face criminal penalties.
Additionally, the Domestic Relations Section, during an active support case, requires that both individuals adhere to the following:
- Paying, in total, to the PA Statewide Collection & Disbursement Unit if a wage attachment is not in effect
- Refraining from bypassing the courts by making or accepting direct payments
- Notifying, in writing, within seven days of any change of employment, address, and/or income, to the courts and all parties involved
- Providing the courts with any requested information within the specified period
The Court Process in Washington County, PA
In Washington County, when a spouse petitions for divorce, their support order follows a set procedure. The process can be puzzling and leave you with many questions. The following section will briefly overview this series of steps, which try to come to a solution before the case appears before a family judge. Although you can go through this without legal counsel, it is in your best interest to hire an experienced Family Law Team. The LLF Law Firm will ensure you know your rights and what you are entitled to, providing you with the best possible outcome.
Filing for Support in Washington County, PA
Spouses interested in filing a complaint can do so online or in person at the Washington County, PA, Domestic Relations Section. There is no reason to file separately for post-divorce alimony, as it will be included in the original complaint. However, if you are seeking APL, spousal support, or child support, you will need to file a separate form.
A divorce decree is an official court document signaling the dissolution of a marriage. It does not include anything about spousal support or child support. In most cases, once a decree is issued, a spouse cannot return to the courts asking for alimony or equitable division of property.
For child support orders where the biological father of the child is disputed, Washington County has resources for establishing paternity, such as
- Genetic testing
- Court order following a hearing
- Acknowledgment of Paternity Form
Once a conference begins, a court-ordered conference officer will be present to mediate the situation. The officer will be responsible for calculating the net incomes of both parties and will ensure that they have equal opportunities to speak and collect information “including demographic, employment, and income information.” If an agreement is reached, the officer will confirm it to the courts by having both parties sign an agreement and order of support. However, if an agreement cannot be reached, the conference officer will enter an interim order, requesting that the defendant pay the support the officer has deemed necessary. Following the conference, the parties will be entered for a hearing de novo, and their case will be presented to a Hearing Officer. If both spouses fail to appear or request cancellation of the meeting in writing, then the interim order is final.
During the hearing, both spouses can give their testimony and evidence and bring any witnesses for the case. The Hearing Officer will listen to everything presented and write a recommendation to the courts. This is the only time that the parties can present evidence for their case, and it is crucial that both spouses appear at the ordered date and time. Should the custodial spouse fail to appear, the case may be dismissed, or the Hearing Officer will only listen to one side of the story, worsening the outcome for the other spouse. Additionally, if the non-custodial parents fail to appear, they risk being arrested and held at the Washington County Correctional Facility until their case can be heard. You are allowed counsel at these hearings and should take full advantage of this right by hiring the experienced LLF Law Firm Family Law Team.
Why You Need the LLF Law Firm in Washington County, PA
Even though you can self-file and represent yourself during the support order process, Pennsylvania Family Law has many factors that can make this process very challenging to do on your own:
- Disputing Financial Support is an emotionally turbulent subject that can quickly progress into an argument. Retaining the LLF Law Firm Team, who knows the law and your case, ensures that your needs are met with results.
- Dealing with strict deadlines is an unavoidable aspect of Family Law. A team of attorneys monitoring your case will let you focus on what matters most.
- Presenting the most substantial evidence can be confusing, and you only have one opportunity to do so. Make sure it is the best by having the LLF Law Firm Team craft the strongest case possible.
The LLF Law Firm Family Law Team can help on either side of this process, whether you are filing a complaint or receiving one. We have many years of experience helping the residents of Washington County, so let us help you by calling us at (888) 535-3686 or telling us about your case.
Appealing a Support Decision in Washington County, PA
Following the hearing, the officer will provide a written decision to both parties and their attorneys; however, if either party disagrees, they must file an Exception within twenty days of receiving the decision. Additional documents, such as a brief of support and a transcript, must also be filed, or the appeal will not be considered.
Modifying a Court Order
Typically, requests to modify a court order are allowed if there are any changes in circumstances. However, six months must have passed since the last support order, or the party requesting to modify must ask for permission from the judge. Regardless, a petition for modification must be filed with the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services.
Enforcing a Support Order
As the courts issue a support order, they can and will exercise their power should a party fail to adhere. The judge can perform a whole host of actions on the paying spouse, including:
- Increasing interest on the payments
- Warranting the acquisition of the paying spouse's assets and property to cover any overdue payments
- Permitting the paying spouse's wages to be intercepted by up to 50%
- Entering an additional judgment onto the paying spouse
- Obtaining collateral or security to ensure future payments are met
Consequences of Violating a Support Order
As previously mentioned, the support orders are legally binding civil orders, and failure to pay will result in criminal charges of contempt. These charges can carry fines or up to 6 months in the county correctional facility for each contempt charge. This process only exacerbates the paying spouse's original financial situation and is best avoided. Should you find yourself struggling to meet deadlines imposed by the court, let the LLF Law Firm Team help you modify your case and avoid potential legal troubles.
How the Family Law Attorneys at the LLF Law Firm Can Help
Family Law takes private issues and puts them into the hands of the law. Emotions are interlaced with strict deadlines, procedures, and rules. Luckily, our Family Law Team has many years of experience helping residents of Washington County during this stressful time. The LLF Law Firm understands that divorce and separation can be stressful and complex. We can provide the necessary resources, support, and counsel to make sure your story is heard and your rights are exercised to the fullest extent. Call us at 888-353-3686 or tell us about your case today.