When a couple marries, there's an obligation to support each other financially so far as each party is able. However, when a couple separates, they are not necessarily obliged to support each other financially the way they were during the marriage. This is not true for child support. Children must always be supported, regardless of whether the parents remain married.
In PA, a dependent spouse with custody of a child can seek child support payments from the non-custodial spouse. They may also be entitled to spousal support for themselves, depending on their situation. To discuss your legal rights and what orders may be applicable to your family, call the LLF Law Firm at 888.535.3686 or tell us about your matter online.
What Is Child Support?
Child support is a specific financial obligation or court order. It ensures that a child's basic needs and living expenses are provided for after a divorce. These needs include housing, utility, food and clothing, and medical expenses.
The idea behind child support is to protect a child, so far as possible, from the impact of a family breakdown. The welfare of that child is paramount, and what's required to protect the child will depend on various financial and social factors.
Calculating Child Support
Judges will turn to PA's codified schedule to initially value a child support claim. However, they will only use this schedule as a guide – the amounts specified are not prescriptive, although there are “presumptive minimums”. Judges must consider, as a priority, what's in the child's best interests. This could mean awarding a higher amount than the figure specified within the schedule.
Other factors which should be considered when calculating child support are:
- The child's age.
- The parental income from both parties.
- Whether the child has special needs or participates in unique activities that may require extra financial support.
- Any other factors the judge may deem relevant in determining what's fair and reasonable for that child.
The goal is to minimize the financial impact on a child after a divorce. Your attorney can explain what a judge is likely to consider “fair” in your circumstances.
How Long Child Support Is Payable in Columbia County, PA?
Child support is usually only payable until a child reaches the age of majority, i.e., 18 years old. However, it may stop earlier if a child is legally emancipated, and it may last longer for children with complex needs who will struggle to function independently as adults, e.g., those with severe learning difficulties.
Child support orders can be modified to reflect a child's evolving needs. Our Family Law Team can explain how support payments may change over time and how to file for a modification.
What Is Spousal Support?
Spousal support is a type of support order awarded by the court. It's payable by one spouse to the dependent party to help them financially. It's not the same as child support, so you can file for both.
Types of Spousal Support
There are three major types of spousal support in PA. The dependent spouse won't receive all three levels of support concurrently. Instead, the support they may be entitled to depends on the current stage of divorce proceedings.
- Spousal support: When couples separate, one spouse may need financial support for essential, day-to-day living expenses. Spousal support covers the transition period between separation and finalizing a divorce settlement.
- Alimony Pendente Lite (APL): APL can be triggered when parties formally agree to separate, but they're not yet divorced. While the divorce action is pending, a dependent spouse can seek temporary financial support.
- Alimony: Alimony is payable beyond the duration of the marriage and allows a dependent spouse time to stabilize themselves financially. How long the alimony lasts depends on the circumstances, but it is finite.
Valuing Spousal Support
Spousal support can be calculated in various ways. The goal is to determine an amount that is fair and reasonable to cover a dependent spouse's needs until they can adjust financially to life beyond the marriage. In other words, spousal support is not designed to be a long-term solution.
The courts will consider a number of factors, including:
- The duration of the marriage.
- Each spouse's current earnings and earning potential, i.e., how much they could earn based on their education and training.
- Anticipated income from, for example, inheritance payouts.
- Restrictions on a spouse's earning potential, e.g., if they can't work full-time due to childcare commitments.
Every situation is entirely unique. Our attorneys can explain how the courts may value a support order based on your financial circumstances.
How to File for Spousal or Child Support in Columbia County PA
Applying for support in Columbia County can be a complex process with multiple steps involved. How a case proceeds ultimately depends on the unique facts and circumstances. However, some of the most common steps that parties undertake are as follows.
File for Support
First, the spouse seeking child support or any other financial support order must file a formal petition with the court in Columbia County. The first step is to approach the Domestic Relations Office within the Columbia County Court of Common Pleas. It's open from 8 am until 4.30 pm Monday to Friday, and it's located at:
11 West Main Street,
Bloomsburg, PA 17815
You can call ahead, visit in person, or file online if this is preferable.
Attend a Support Conference
A support conference is less formal than a court hearing. It's held between both parties and a designated Master, who oversees the meeting. The Master specializes in child or spousal support – depending on what is in contention – and will facilitate discussions. If parties reach an agreement, it can be confirmed and implemented. Otherwise, any outstanding issues can be resolved at a court hearing.
You do not require legal representation for a support conference; however, our attorneys can ensure that you understand your legal rights prior to attending, and where possible, we can represent your best interests and ensure that due process is upheld.
Proceed to a Court Hearing
If necessary, child support matters can proceed to a court hearing. A family court judge will hear evidence presented by both sides to determine whether to award support and how much would be fair and reasonable in the circumstances.
If one party does not attend the hearing, the judge can only decide based on the case presented by one party. Therefore, it's in your best interests to attend the hearing, or else the case may automatically go against you.
The Court Order and Legal Consequences
Any court order has legal consequences. The paying spouse must comply with the order to avoid significant legal penalties. Courts can take various steps to enforce the order – including holding a person in contempt of court. But aside from these legal consequences, there are also the emotional and financial ramifications to consider. Being subject to a court order is inherently stressful, and depending on the person's financial situation, it could be difficult to manage.
If you're subject to a court order and you have concerns about your ability to pay or comply with the terms, call our Family Law Team for urgent advice.
Spousal and Child Support Order Enforcement
PA courts can compel a paying spouse to comply with a child support or spousal support order. This power stems from Chapter 37 of the PA Consolidated Statutes. Under Chapter 37, a judge may order the following action(s) against a defaulting party:
- Pass a further legal judgment against them.
- Arrest up to 50% of the paying spouse's wages.
- Attach interest to unpaid sums.
- Seize property, including profits from real estate.
- Require the paying spouse to provide security over future payments.
- Pass a judgment that the party is in contempt of court.
If you violate a support order in Columbia County, even a civil court order, you could face criminal charges for contempt. Contempt in PA could lead to financial penalties or even jail time. This is because courts take any violation of a court order seriously – it is, after all, a binding legal document. Our attorneys can ensure you understand the order and what's expected of you should you have any concerns.
How to Appeal a Child Support or Spousal Support Order
There is some limited scope for appealing a support order in Columbia County PA. The process involves filing a Motion for Reconsideration with the family court. This motion essentially asks the court to reconsider the decision based on, for example, concerns that a support payment has not been calculated correctly.
You normally have 20 days to file an appeal with the Domestic Relations Office. After this time, you may be unable to appeal the decision. However, time limits can vary, and there are procedural requirements you must adhere to before Columbia County will consider your appeal. And securing an appeal hearing before a family court official or judge is no guarantee of success. Our Family Law Team can explain what grounds you may have to appeal a support order and what you must do to thoroughly prepare.
Can I Modify a Support Order in Columbia County?
Yes. The courts accept that a support order – whether it's a spousal or child support order – may not reflect what's best for a family indefinitely. If your support needs change, or you can no longer meet your court-ordered obligations, you can petition to modify the order. If the court agrees to the change, the old order ceases to exist, and the new order takes its place.
You can, alternatively, try to reach a less formal agreement with your spouse first. However, you must get the court's permission to proceed with the new arrangement. Otherwise, the paying spouse is technically violating the existing court order, even if neither party wishes to uphold it any longer.
The LLF Law Firm Family Law Team can explain how to file for a support order modification. If you're the paying party, do not default on the existing support order – even if your ex-spouse is happy for you to pay less.
Do I Need an Attorney to File for Spousal or Child Support in PA?
You can file for support or contest a support order without legal guidance. However, we do not recommend this approach for the following reasons.
- Family law matters are complex. The law changes frequently. Our Family Law Team can provide comprehensive legal advice based on the most relevant and up-to-date provisions.
- When you're dealing with financial issues, particularly between spouses, it's common for discussions to stall or tensions to run high. The LLF Law Firm Team will mediate and promote productive negotiations that facilitate the most favorable possible outcome for our clients.
- There's a very good chance that your spouse has also instructed legal counsel. You are disadvantaged without your own attorney on your side to provide legal support and advice.
- An attorney provides more than just advice on your legal rights and options. They can stand alongside you and walk you through the toughest challenges. When you're dealing with a family breakup, this support is invaluable.
Our Family Law Team is happy to discuss how we may assist. We will listen, explain your options based on how the law applies to you, and help you make an empowered, informed decision for moving forward.
Experienced Family Law Attorneys in PA | LLF Law Firm
Child support can be a highly contentious issue for all parties involved. Having the right attorney on your side can help to ensure that your legal rights are respected at every stage of negotiations. That's where our Family Law Team can help. The LLF Law Firm has helped numerous individuals pursue a fair child and spousal support arrangement in PA. Our attorneys understand what's at stake, and we're here to guide you through the process.