When a family unit breaks down, it's traumatic and confusing for everyone involved. There are many issues to resolve, including the matter of how spouses and children should be supported. Unsurprisingly, child and spousal support issues can be very contentious and difficult to manage. The legal process itself is also complex and, at times, convoluted. It's not a process you should attempt to navigate alone – instead, you should have an experienced family attorney on your side.
Our Family Law Team will protect your legal rights and ensure that your voice is heard. We're ready to support your child or spousal support claim in Dauphin County, PA. Call now at 888.535.3686 or reach us online to arrange a meeting.
Financial Support Obligations
Spouses in PA have a general financial obligation to each other. In simple terms, it's an obligation to support each other financially if they have the means to do so. This obligation only applies while the parties remain married. However, separation or divorce both raise the question of how spouses will be supported going forward.
In PA, there are two main types of support to consider: child support and spousal support. Child support helps to cover the costs of raising a child, while spousal support helps the financially dependent spouse manage for a specified period.
Child Support in Dauphin County
Child support in Dauphin County, PA, is a formal, legally binding agreement or payment arrangement. It's issued by the court and obliges the paying spouse to make payments towards a child's upkeep. The payments cover essentials, including:
- Household bills and utilities
- Medical support and bills
- Shelter, e.g., the family home
In most cases, the parent who does not live with the child is responsible for paying child support. Meaning that the parent with primary physical custody receives child support. However, this varies by situation.
How Long Child Support Lasts
Child support obligations normally end when a child turns 18 unless they have more complex needs which require extra support, e.g., they have learning difficulties or specific physical impairments. If the child is still in high school after the age of 18, child support payments continue while they remain in school.
Calculating Child Support
To calculate child support in Dauphin County, the court follows the PA state schedule. The schedule is only a basic guideline, however. Every child support claim is unique, and the exact amount the court rewards the recipient will vary. To calculate child support, the court considers factors including, but not limited to:
- What level of financial support is in the child's best interests.
- Whether the paying spouse is already paying other support e.g., spousal support.
- Existing medical conditions or special support needs.
- The child's age.
- The other spouse's income, earning potential, and assets.
Our Family Law Team can help you understand what level of child support may be applicable in your situation.
Dauphin County Spousal Support
Spousal support aims to stop one spouse from being financially disadvantaged due to a relationship breakdown. There are, in simple terms, three different levels of spousal support in PA:
- Spousal support: Spousal support helps the dependent spouse financially after the parties separate but before they divorce legally. It covers certain reasonable costs, such as living expenses.
- Post-divorce alimony: Once a divorce is finalized, the courts may award one spouse continued payments to cover reasonable expenses. This is often to stop the spouse from requiring state support or benefits.
- Alimony Pendente Lite (APL): Normally triggered when one spouse files for divorce, APL usually covers the period from when proceedings begin to when spousal support is finalized. You cannot have both types of support active simultaneously.
Spousal support may be short-lived (such as a few weeks or months), or it can last for a much longer period. Your lawyer will explain how long spousal support may be required in your situation.
How Spousal Support Is Calculated
To determine a spouse's entitlement to support, the court considers, among other factors:
- The salary for either spouse.
- The earning potential for both parties is based on their training and education.
- Whether there are financial constraints or limitationson either party e.g., if one spouse can't work full-time due to raising the children.
- Any anticipated income, e.g., an inheritance.
- How long the marriage lasted.
Dauphin County PA Court Process
In Dauphin County, the onus is on the spouse seeking support to file for a court order. They can file for child and/or spousal support, depending on their situation. Once the dependent spouse files for support, the court process begins.
Typically, there are two ways to resolve support claims:
- Through negotiations at a support conference or
- A court hearing before a family law judge.
We will cover the basics of these processes below. You should note, however, that these proceedings can be complex, and it's crucial that you submit any relevant paperwork correctly. The best way to handle child support matters is to retain the services of experienced attorneys. Our Family Law Team is waiting and ready to assist; however, in the meantime, here is a brief overview of how the court process works.
How to File for Child Support
The first step, as mentioned, is filing for spousal or child support. To do this, you must complete a Claim for Support and file the document correctly. This means filing with the Domestic Relations Department at the Dauphin County Courthouse. You can file online or attend the Domestic Relations Department at:
25 South Front Street, 8th Floor
Harrisburg, PA, 17101
For more information, call the courthouse at (717) 255-2796.
To be clear, if you're seeking alimony, you don't need to file for this separately. It's usually included in the complaint.
The Support Conference
When the courts issue a divorce decree, this only marks the end of a marriage. It does not cover financial support issues, such as child or spousal support. However, in many cases, you can resolve child and spousal support issues during the initial divorce negotiations.
Support conferences are less formal than court proceedings. They normally take place at the Domestic Relations office, and they're held in private (so only the parties involved, their attorneys, and certain officials can attend).
A support conference takes place before a Support Master and a support hearing officer. The Support Master will specialize in child and/or spousal support, depending on what type of support is in contention. The goal is to reach an amicable agreement whereby both parties feel satisfied with the outcome. If the parties reach an agreement based on the Master's recommendations, they'll sign a binding order to this effect.
It's not always possible to agree on child support at a conference. If parties can't agree on the best way forward, then the case must proceed to a formal court hearing before a judge. It's important that you attend this hearing; otherwise, the judge may pass an order in your absence.
The judge will decide on support issues based on the submissions made by both parties. It is, therefore, in your best interests to have legal representation. Experienced counsel understands how to advocate on their clients' behalf and make the most compelling arguments in their favor.
Appealing a Child Support Decision
You can appeal a child support decision in Dauphin County, PA. You may choose to do this if you don't agree with the order or the amount decreed by the court.
Appealing means filing a Motion for Reconsideration with the Family Court. This motion essentially asks the judge to reconsider the judgment based on the facts and evidence available.
There's no guarantee that the judge will award an appeal, though – there must be legal grounds to do so. For example, this could mean the judge didn't apply the law correctly or didn't take all relevant facts into consideration. In other words, an appeal is not an opportunity to simply reargue matters already decided. There must be a legally sound reason for seeking a reconsideration.
An attorney can explain whether you have grounds for an appeal and how the process works.
Court Order Modifications
It's possible to modify a support order. This enables parties to make amendments based on, for example, a change in financial circumstances. There are two ways you might modify a support order in PA:
- Petition the court to modify the court order.
- Reach an informal agreement with your spouse and then ask the court to confirm the agreement.
It's important to note that even if parties do reach an informal agreement, you cannot skip the step of asking the court to ratify or confirm it. Without formal court confirmation, the original agreement stands. If the paying spouse doesn't pay accordingly, they could face penalties for violating a court order.
Enforcing a Dauphin County Child Support Order
The courts take support orders seriously. They will not hesitate to enforce such an order as it's in the child's best interests to have financial stability. Under PA family law, the courts can take the following action to enforce child support orders:
- Add interest to unpaid child support payments.
- Arrange for payment to be deducted from the paying spouse's wages.
- Oblige the paying spouse to put up collateral, such as property, to cover future payments.
- Seize property to cover the delinquent amount.
The courts can also enter further judgments against the paying spouse, which could have more significant consequences.
Court Order Violations
Although support orders are civil rather than criminal orders, they are still legally binding orders of the court. And they can, in some cases, result in criminal penalties. This is because support order violations are criminal offenses in PA.
- Support order violations are a contempt of court.
- In Dauphin County, PA, contempt can result in fines or even up to six months in jail.
- There are more serious penalties for repeated violations.
If you're struggling to make support payments for any reason, you need immediate legal advice. It may be possible to amend or modify the court order to account for your changed circumstances.
Do I Need an Attorney to Get Child Support in Dauphin County?
You are not obliged to hire an attorney if you don't wish to do so. You can, technically,represent yourself. That said, there are many reasons why you should consider retaining a family law attorney rather than attempting to handle child support matters alone.
- This is a formal legal process, which means you must follow certain rules and meet strict deadlines for filing documents. These rules can be confusing, and without an attorney's help, there's a risk that you will miss a key deadline – and jeopardize your case.
- Emotions can run high during child and spousal support proceedings. An attorney will observe due process and ensure that you're treated fairly by all parties involved.
- The goal in such proceedings is to reach the most favorable outcome as swiftly as possible. An experienced attorney understands how to handle support negotiations to improve your chances of a swift resolution.
- If you're unfamiliar with support proceedings, you may be unsure what evidence is relevant. An attorney knows how to make the most of the evidence available, and they'll devise a case strategy based on your unique situation.
Family law matters are too important to leave anything to chance. If you need help with child support in Dauphin County, PA, don't hesitate to contact our Family Law Team.
Hire a PA Child Support Attorney Today
Child support issues are inherently complex. Whether you're challenging an order or you're looking for support, you deserve an experienced attorney on your side. That's where the Lento Law Firm can help.
Our Family Law Team understands what you're going through. It's our goal to help you through this challenging time by guiding you through the legal process. We can answer any questions you have, and we'll ensure that you have the information you need to make the best decisions for your family. From calculating support to representing you at hearings, our lawyers have the experience and commitment to advocate for your best interests.
Don't struggle with child and spousal support issues alone. Instead, reach out to the Family Law Team at the Lento Law Firm. Let us stand with you – call now at 888.535.3686 or leave us an online message.