When adults choose to get married and when they become parents, they are not just impacted by new emotional, practical, and social concerns. Being a spouse and being a parent also result in new legal and financial rights and responsibilities. Sometimes, the legal and financial realities of marriage intersect. For example, the state generally requires all parents to financially provide for their children and for spouses to support one another financially. When spouses divorce and parents of minor children go their separate ways, these obligations may not end immediately.
When children are still minors and their parents are no longer linked romantically, one parent is generally ordered to pay child support to the other. Similarly, one spouse may be ordered to pay support to the other for a length of time after a couple has formally separated or divorced. Either during divorce or a non-marital split between a minor's parents, the adults involved can agree on the terms of support and work with their attorneys to finalize them. But, if one party requests support and the differences between the parties can't be settled amicably, a support case will need to be filed in the civil court's Domestic Relations Office in Lebanon County, PA, and decided by the Lebanon County Court of Common Pleas. Both of these resources are located within the Lebanon County Courthouse, housed at 400 S. 8th Street, Lebanon, PA 17042.
If you need to file, contest, modify, or terminate a child or spousal support matter in Lebanon County, you don't need to manage the ins and outs of this process on your own. The trusted attorneys on the Family Law Team at the Lento Law Firm understand that the stakes of your situation are high and that you can't afford to make any missteps. We have the extensive experience and focused approach you need to effectively navigate your support-related matter and to do so efficiently. To learn more, schedule a risk-free case evaluation by calling 888.535.3686 or by connecting with our dedicated team online today.
Legal Expectation of Familial Support
In Pennsylvania and across the U.S., parents are generally required to provide financially for their children until those children become adults. As a consequence of their legal bond, married spouses are similarly required to support one another financially under certain circumstances. When married adults decide to pursue divorce proceedings, one party may either agree to or be ordered to pay the following kinds of financial support by virtue of their relationship to another party affected by the split:
- Child support: Also ordered when non-married parents of a minor end their romantic association, these payments are made regularly by a child's parent to its other parent for the purposes of helping to raise that child and maintaining a child's standard of living as they move back and forth between households.
- Spousal support: Also referred to as spousal maintenance or alimony, these payments are usually made by one current or former spouse to another for a set time period or until conditions of the support order have been fulfilled.
Although child support arrangements are usually formalized in the wake of any marital or non-marital split between a minor child's parents, spousal support is only a feature of divorce settlements in a fraction of cases for a variety of reasons.
Child Support: The Basics
Child support orders are court-approved payment arrangements that require one parent of a minor or otherwise dependent child to regularly provide financial resources to the minor's other parent. These orders, once approved, are legally enforceable. Each order formalized by the Pennsylvania courts details each parent's rights and responsibilities concerning support, the schedule of support payments that must be honored, and clarification concerning when support obligations will end. These orders generally don't dictate how broader payments must be spent, although they may contain terms concerning a child's specific needs, including each parent's potential responsibility to provide them with healthcare coverage.
Calculating Child Support Obligations
Most of the time, the parent who resides with their child less often will be held responsible for child support payments. However, because modern-day custody arrangements are often divided in a relatively even fashion, it may be the more affluent parent who is ordered to pay support, even if their child resides with them more often.
Parents are empowered to negotiate the terms of their child support agreement. Unless the agreement is somehow insufficient, the courts will generally approve negotiated terms. If parents can't reach a resolution that is mutually agreeable, courts in Pennsylvania use a codified measurement system to calculate child support payment obligations in litigated cases. To calculate a fair payment arrangement that reflects the unique circumstances of each family, judges assigned to contested support cases take the following into account:
- The age of the child in question.
- The amount of income earned by each parent.
- Each household's assets, from real property interests to investments.
- The broader financial situation of the parent who is being ordered to make payments, including whether they owe child support for another minor.
- Whether the child in question has unique support needs, perhaps due to a significant medical diagnosis.
Because the courts are empowered to craft orders in a child's best interests, if a higher-than-average award is warranted, the courts can craft support obligations accordingly. There is no one-size-fits-all formula for child support calculations in Pennsylvania.
How Long Do Child Support Orders Remain in Effect?
In Pennsylvania, most children can expect to benefit from child support until they turn 18, graduate from high school, or are emancipated. But, if they have unusually significant medical needs or a disability that warrants additional support, their parents could be required to keep paying child support beyond the traditional end dates placed on most support orders.
Spousal Support: The Basics
In Pennsylvania, spousal support, which may be referred to as alimony or spousal maintenance, is like child support in some ways. One spouse is ordered to pay the other a specific amount of support on a regular basis until either a pre-determined amount of time has passed or certain conditions of the order have been satisfied. These orders can be modified or terminated under certain circumstances.
Types of Spousal Support
Not all spousal support orders are created equal. Some support orders last for only a few months, while others may last for years. Each couple's unique circumstances influence the type of support that is negotiated or ordered by a judge and the duration of the order itself.
Pennsylvania courts may order various kinds of support, depending on the nature of a couple's situation. The different approaches to spousal support in the Keystone State include:
- Alimony Pendente Lite (APL): Received after a formal separation is declared but before a divorce is finalized.
- Equitable reimbursement: Received by a dependent spouse to support efforts made to increase their earning potential; ordinarily made for the duration of a spouse's educational or job training pursuits.
- Post-divorce alimony: Received after the finalization of a divorce to cover the reasonable expenses of a dependent spouse.
- Spousal support: Received by a dependent spouse who needs to cover any number of reasonable expenses before their divorce is finalized.
- Voluntary spousal reimbursement: Received in accordance with mutually agreed-upon divorce settlement terms; ordinarily made in exchange for the value of other marital assets.
How Is Spousal Support Calculated?
Couples have the option of negotiating a support agreement that works for them. As long as the negotiated terms are fair, the courts should approve it. However, not all couples are in a position to reach fair terms without judicial intervention. If the courts need to weigh in, spousal support will only be awarded if an arrangement is deemed both reasonable and necessary. This determination is generally made after a judge has weighed the following:
- The length of a couple's union.
- Each spouse's earning potential and actual income.
- Any supplemental anticipated income, including revenue from investments.
- Any issues outside their control that may prevent spouses from realizing their earning potential.
As each couple's finances are unique, the structure of their support orders tends to be unique as well.
Filing for Support in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania
When spouses or unmarried parents negotiate mutually favorable support terms, they can work with their attorneys to formalize their decisions. When divorces or non-marital child custody scenarios become contentious, those who are seeking support generally request it when petitioning the court.
To better ensure that the terms of a support order are fair and manageable, parties are often compelled to attend conferences to work out their differences. Only if conferences are unsuccessful will a judge generally be called upon to make a unilateral ruling. Once support has been ordered by the court, the terms of the order will become binding, regardless of whether the arrangement was agreed upon by both parties or not.
Why You Need an Attorney
The stakes of any child support or spousal support matter are high. As a result, it's important to seek experienced legal counsel before committing to a support-related strategy. When the Lento Law Firm seeks support on behalf of our clients, we do our utmost to ensure that accurate calculations and thoughtful analysis inform favorable results. We also work to take the stress of support-related matters off of our client's shoulders so that they can focus their energy on other priorities.
Appealing a Support Decision
When a support order is entered that is unreasonable or somehow violates an individual's rights, it's possible to appeal the court's decision. However, the appeals process for a support order tends to be a complex challenge that non-lawyers shouldn't attempt to navigate without proper support.
If you are interested in appealing a support matter, the Lento Law Firm's Family Law Team can work with you to file a Motion for Reconsideration as long as you request this assistance while you're still permitted to appeal. There are strict deadlines applied to this process, so if you need to appeal, you'll need to act fast.
Violating a Support Order
Violating a child or spousal support order is not an insignificant event. If a judge chooses to hold an offending party in contempt of court, they could face fines and/or jail time. They could also face various enforcement efforts that could affect their take-home earnings, property, and reputation. Therefore, it is better to seek a formal modification if the party who owes support can no longer manage their payments or the circumstances of either party fundamentally change.
Just like co-parents can mutually agree to alter child custody or parenting terms, former spouses and current co-parents can opt to modify a current support order (as long as any child support modifications don't adversely affect a child's best interests). If a modification request isn't agreed upon, a judge will need to resolve one party's petition favorably or unfavorably. Until an order is formally modified in either way, all parties to the order must abide by its terms or risk significant consequences.
Enforcing a Support Order in Lebanon County, PA
There isn't much to be said about having rights if those rights can't be effectively enforced. As a result, the Pennsylvania courts are empowered to enforce support orders when the rights of the individual who is owed compensation have been violated. An offender may face the following consequences if they fall behind on their support obligations:
- Interest added to their overdue balance.
- Seizure of their property to repay the debt.
- Garnishment of no more than 50% of their earned income.
- The attachment of collateral or security to future payments.
The court may also craft alternative, appropriate consequences at its discretion. Overdue support obligations cannot be discharged in bankruptcy, so even those hoping to avoid court-ordered penalties for missed support payments by filing for debt relief won't be granted their wish. If it is no longer feasible for payments to be made in full and on time, those who owe support are better off seeking a modification than violating their obligations altogether.
Discuss Your Case With a Client-Focused Lebanon County, Pennsylvania Support Lawyer
Regardless of whether you're on track to resolve your support concerns amicably or it's likely that you're going to need to litigate your divorce and/or child custody and support issues with your ex, know that client-focused attorneys on the Family Law team at the Lento Law Firm can provide you with the legal support and guidance that you need at this time.
No two family law matters unfold in exactly the same way. Thankfully, our team has extensive experience handling both straightforward and complex cases, so we're ready to provide you with efficient, effective, respectful, and focused representation regardless of exactly what your circumstances may be. To learn more, call our offices directly at 888.535.3686 or reach out online to schedule a risk-free consultation and to begin building a thoughtful legal strategy designed to meet your unique needs. We look forward to working with you.