A recent Pennsylvania Superior Court case clarified that only truly unusual needs and expenses warrant deviating from child support guidelines.
The case emphasized that unless there are exceptional circumstances, the court will order parents to pay child support according to the standardized statewide calculation.
In Thompson v. Thompson, the parents initially shared custody of three children. As time went on, the mother showed increasingly concerning behavior, including drinking and driving with a child in the car.
With the mother's custody suspended, the father successfully petitioned for greater parental responsibility. As he then had primary custody, the father filed to terminate his child support payments and sought child support from the mother. The court subsequently ordered the mother to pay child support which was calculated by standardized Pennsylvania child support guidelines.
The mother appealed to the Superior Court for this order to be overturned. Her appeal was based on the argument that the court should have granted her a deviation from standard Pennsylvania child support guidelines. According to 23 Pa.C.S.A. Section 4322(a), the court can deviate from the child support guidelines for “unusual needs, extraordinary expenses and other factors.”
What are Unusual Expenses?
Typically, the court interprets this to mean unusual expenses that fall outside the usual scope of living costs. For instance, someone might have to budget for a mobility issue they have. Pennsylvania's guidelines are designed to calculate a fair and standardized amount for child support. These guidelines mean Pennsylvania's family courts do not have to calculate support on a case-by-case basis.
The provision about unusual expenses is there to allow for people for whom this standardized child support would be unfair on account of their exceptional circumstances. Where there are unusual needs and expenses, the court can deviate from the otherwise standard child support calculation.
In Thompson v. Thompson, the mother suggested a novel interpretation of “unusual needs” and “extraordinary expenses.” She argued that her expenses should be considered “unusual” because her expenses were high compared to her income.
The Court's Findings
The mother claimed that the child support order was “manifestly unreasonable and confiscatory, as it left her ‘underwater' every month.” She argued that the court should have deviated downwards from the standard calculation of child support on the basis of her “unusual” expenses.
However, the Pennsylvania Superior Court rejected the mother's definition of “unusual expenses.” They found that the expenses she had, her housing and car, for instance, were not in themselves unusual, but the kind of expenses that everyone had.
The court found that to accept these expenses as unusual, and deviate from a standard child support order, would undermine the point of the guidelines. The mother could not be exempted from the child support payments any other parent in Pennsylvania would be ordered to pay.
What Does This Mean for Parents in Pennsylvania?
This case has emphasized the importance of statewide standard guidelines in calculating how much child support parents must pay. Even if a child support order feels like a big financial burden to the parent, there is a high bar to deviating from these guidelines.
Pennsylvania Family Law Attorney
If you have an issue with child support payments, you need an attorney who can fight in your corner in a PA family court, and attorney Joseph D. Lento does just that on behalf of his clients day in and day out. Give the Lento Law Firm a call today at 888-535-3686.