When couples make the decision to divorce in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, legal issues may be the last thing on their minds. The emotional toll and stress of the situation can make dealing with the many issues a divorcing couple needs to settle seem daunting. Financial issues, including who is responsible for childcare costs, are often handled concurrently with determining spousal support.
Sometimes, divorcing parties cannot reach a settlement without the intervention of the courts. In these cases, courts are called upon to make support orders. In Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, couples can seek resolution through the Westmoreland County Domestic Relations Section of the Court of Common Pleas.
You may be tempted to file for spousal or child support without the aid of an attorney, but you may be putting yourself at a disadvantage if you go this route. Legal counsel can help. The LLF Law Firm Family Law Team can help guide you through the family law matters affecting you. Call or contact the LLF Law Firm today to request a consultation.
Expectations of Financial Support
Pennsylvania law dictates that spouses must provide financial support during the course of the marriage when they are able to. Children under the age 18 are also entitled to this financial support. But when a couple separates or divorces, financial support for the spouse and the child must be made official and formalized. These come in two types: child support and spousal support.
Child support consists of the payments one spouse makes to the other spouse to provide for the costs of raising their child.
Spousal support consists of the payments one spouse makes to the other spouse to support them financially.
A number of factors determine the calculation of just how much support the party receives.
In Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, divorce courts may order child support, or payment arrangements between the divorcing couples. This legal order will require one parent to pay the other parent regularly for the financial support of their child or children. These child support payments cover the child's basic needs, including food, clothing, and shelter.
It is common for child support payments to be made to the parent who has custody from the parent who does not have custody.
Calculating Child Support
But just how are these costs calculated? In the state of Pennsylvania, a measurement system determines the amount of child support that should be paid. These calculations cover minimum child support, covering the most basic of responsibilities. The true size of the child support award granted by the court may vary.
To understand and calculate child support due in Westmoreland County, the court considers a variety of factors:
- The other spouse's income, property, and other investments
- Other sources of income in the other spouse's home, for example, a new spouse's income and investments
- Special or specific needs, for example, learning disabilities or health conditions
- The other spouse's financial obligations
- The child's age
Pennsylvania courts will assess all sources of income and value for both parents. It is the obligation of the court to act in the child's best interest, and that includes the standard of living. Assessing the value of each parent's contribution to the support of that child is part of ensuring that the child's life is impacted as little as possible by the divorce of their parents.
The Duration of Child Support
Child support generally lasts until the child is no longer a minor, which, in Pennsylvania, is 18 years old. In special circumstances, like serious disability, child support may last into adulthood.
Pennsylvania spousal support is established to help the dependent spouse continue to live without becoming disadvantaged because of the divorce. Spousal support is not set in stone. It can be re-assessed and changed over time. Some may only last the duration of the divorce proceedings, and others may last for the entire childhood of a dependent or beyond.
Types of Financial Support in Divorce
Pennsylvania law recognizes three types of spousal support that a spouse may claim with different purposes and conditions.
Spousal support is a regular payment that provides for the spouse to pay for reasonable expenses, including basic living expenses during the separation period before the divorce is final.
Alimony Pendente Lite (APL)
APL is usually awarded while a divorce is pending. It usually applies to divorces in which one person has filed for divorce (as opposed to entering a jointly decided separation).
This happens when the financially dependent spouse is awarded ongoing support payments after the divorce is finalized. This is usually in the amount that allows the dependent spouse to meet reasonable ongoing expenses.
Equitable Reimbursementallows one spouse to complete their education—or pursue further training or education—that will result in increased earning potential.
Calculating Spousal Support
Courts award alimony and spousal support on a case-by-case basis. They consider whether the support is understood to be necessary and reasonable. Courts consider a number of factors, including:
- Each spouse's earningpotential is based on their education and training.
- Each spouse's actual income.
- The length of the marriage.
- Other anticipated income, including what the person may inherit.
- Limitations on a spouse reaching their earning potential, for example, if they are home raising a child.
Court Orders for Child and Spousal Support
The spouse who seeks financial support usually files for spousal and child support. At that point, the family court judge considers the case and makes a ruling. This will be a civil court order that delineates exactly what the paying spouse must pay, whether that's child support and/or spousal support.
Refusal to follow the civil court order is not taken lightly and may result in criminal penalties.
The Court Process in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania
When you begin the divorce process in Westmoreland County, you follow a series of procedures, including support proceedings. These are multi-step processes that involve meetings to resolve the situation, but the processes can be complicated. Legal professionals can help you navigate Pennsylvania divorce court.
Filing for Support in Westmoreland County, PA
Applying for a child in Westmoreland County can come as part of a divorce, as a referral from the Welfare Department, from another county or state, or simply by calling or visiting a Welfare Department office to discuss a support complaint.
Alimony is included in a divorce complaint. Filing for this separately is unnecessary.
To file in person, visit
N Main Street - Suite 101
Greensburg, PA 15601
It may seem that a divorce decree is the end of the story for divorce. Unfortunately, the opposite may be true. It may be the beginning of the story. Separate filings for support, including child support and alimony, will likely be required. It's possible to combine these with the divorce proceedings, but they often require separate discussions before they are resolved. You may need to go through court conferences to determine child and spousal support or even the division of property.
When considering child support, courts may request a paternity test. Verifying paternity can be a critical step that must be completed before any conversation about support can happen. Pennsylvania courts offer paternity testing to families who have a child whose biological father can be disputed.
A court-appointed "Master" oversees a support conference. In this process, the Master will attempt to mediate the situation and allow both parties to express their concerns. Masters will specialize in whatever type of support is being discussed, be it spousal or child support. Conferences may allow attorneys to be present and actively participate on behalf of their clients.
Attorneys can also provide coaching prior to the conference, as well. The case may not be settled at this phase of the process. In those cases, the matter will proceed to a full hearing before a judge.
If the case goes to a hearing, it will be assigned a date and time for review by a judge. You will be represented and accompanied by your legal counsel at the hearing. This is serious, and all court protocols must be followed. You must prioritize being there on time.
This is critical because if only one side is present, the judge will only hear their side of the argument and decide based on only what they presented. The judge will also direct any parties with matters of contempt, such as violations of support orders, to the prosecutor.
Do You Need an Attorney?
You aren't required to have a lawyer to file for spousal support or child support in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. But there's no question that hiring an attorney for any legal matter, especially an issue that may become highly contentious – like financial support—can be beneficial.
Sometimes, there are deadlines for filing documents with the court. Without an attorney to assist you, there's a risk you will miss critical deadlines or file incomplete paperwork.
If you need us, the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team are waiting to assist you with your family law issues.
Appealing a Support Decision in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania
In Westmoreland County, an appeal is in the form of a Motionfor Reconsideration with the Family Court. The process involves strict deadlines and some complicated paperwork. You may want to consult an experienced attorney before you appeal a child support or alimony order in Pennsylvania.
Modifying a Court Order
Often, in divorce and custody cases, either party can petition the court to modify a support order. That means that you can seek permission to increase or decrease payments depending on the specifics of each party's circumstances.
Parties can also reach their own agreement when modifying alimony or child support payments. There is a simple stipulation—the agreement must be ratified by the court. If that isn't done, the previous order still stands, and the paying spouse could be accused of violating the order.
Support Order Enforcement
Pennsylvania courtscan enforce alimony and support orders. Under Chapter 37, section 3703, a judge may enforce the order in the following ways:
- Authorize seizure of property, including payments received and investments, to cover the arrears.
- Arrange for a seizure of up to half of the paying spouse's wages.
- Increase the interest on payments.
- Enter a further judgment against the paying spouse.
- Require collateral or security for future payments.
If a Support Order is Violated
Support orders are in the domain of civil court orders, which are legally binding. Should the paying spouse fail to make the required payments, or should they violate the order in any way, they could face contempt charges.
Contempt of court is a criminal rather than a civil matter. It's a potentially serious charge, and the paying spouse could face significant fines or up to six months in jail for a civil order violation.
A person who is struggling to make support payments for any reason should seek to modify the order rather than simply not make payments.
Retain a Westmoreland, Pennsylvania Support Attorney
If you are dealing with matters of Family Law in Westmoreland County, PA, contact attorney the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team today. Whether you need a court order or wish to challenge an existing order, we're here to help. We can represent you at court hearings, help you present the most compelling case in your favor, and ensure that you're treated fairly every step of the way.
You do not need to go through such a stressful and difficult time alone. Get the legal support, advice, and representation you deserve. Call (888) 535-3686 to arrange a meeting or tell us about your issue online.