No couple ever ties the knot with visions of their relationship and family dissolving one day. But the reality is that separation, divorce, custody disputes, and reshuffling of the nuclear family are exceedingly common. While that fact doesn't make the process any easier or less daunting or make feelings of grief and regret disappear, it can help to know that a lot of people have gotten through this difficult time and gone on to live happier, more fulfilling lives and raise well-adjusted, healthy children.
If you find yourself in such a situation, with or without children – whether biological, adopted, or step-children – having a strong legal defense backing you can help ensure the process is as smooth and expedient as possible. You are likely ready for this chapter to be behind you and to move on to creating more positive memories. We can help you.
As you make preparations for how you plan to deal with your family law case(s), there are a lot of moving pieces to organize – assets, debts, bank accounts, homes, and so on – and a lot to plan for, whether you will be seeking or expecting to pay child or spousal support.
If you are dealing with Family Law issues in Indiana County, PA, we encourage you to contact the Family Law Team at the LLF Law Firm today.
To Settle Out of Court or In Court?
Perhaps you and your spouse have tried to settle your differences, as well as your finances, living situation, and custody arrangements, on your own or with the help of a mediator. For some, this can work. Yet, not every divorcing couple is able to agree on so many emotionally charged and important details. When that isn't possible, the alternative is to let the courts decide. While this is incredibly common and the usual course of action, putting your future and that of your family in the hands of an entity who doesn't know you or your family and your unique situation and background can be scary.
Most people understand that, in states like Pennsylvania, spouses are expected to support one another financially, whenever possible. This expectation is true as well for children under the age of 18 (as well as some dependents over 18, such as children with significant disabilities unable to care for and support themselves once they turn 18). In lieu of an informal agreement made with your spouse, a judge will be responsible for issuing formal orders pertaining to child and spousal support.
How Spousal and Child Support Work in Indiana County
If you are heading into a separation or divorce, you may be wondering if you qualify for child or spousal support. Most of us have a basic understanding of these orders:
- Child Support: One spouse makes payments to the other to cover reasonable costs associated with raising their children.
- Spousal Support: One spouse makes payments to the other to support them financially for a finite period of time.
Whether you are entitled to child support or spousal support can depend on several factors, such as individual income and need.
In Indiana County, PA, the Indiana County Domestic Relations Section (DRS), located in the city of Indiana, oversees critical steps in the child and spousal support process, working with families as well as state and federal agencies. Parents and spouses in Indiana County make support payments directly through the DRS.
The Indiana County Domestic Relations Section operates under Indiana County's Department of Human Services. Responsibilities of the DRS include:
- Attempting to locate absent parents through the United States Postal Service and the Parent Locator Service
- Establishing paternity
- Processing applications for child and spousal support
- Conducting child and spousal support hearings
- Enforcing child and spousal support orders
- Intercepting tax refunds for delinquent child support
- Enforcing health coverage, if available at a reasonable cost
We invite you to reach out to the LLF Law Firm today for help in navigating the DRS. Perhaps you have already been through the courts and are not satisfied with the results. We can assist you in challenging existing orders as well. You won't face the other party or their legal representative alone. We'll be with you every step of the way to secure the most equitable and favorable treatment for you and your family.
How to File a Petition for Child or Spousal Support
If you plan to seek spousal or child support, you can file electronically for both on the PA Child Support Website. This will then be forwarded to Indiana County's DRS. At the website linked above, individuals can request support in:
- Receiving child or spousal support, in addition to alimony pendente lite (APL)
- Paying child or spousal support, in addition to APL
- Changing existing child support or APL payments
- Being reimbursed for an overpayment
- Withdrawing a complaint
If you need assistance in requesting support for any of these actions, you can also schedule an appointment with the Intake Officer.
If you are ready to request support, you can absolutely do this on your own. But we would caution you before doing so. It pays to have the experienced guidance of a legal representative on your side. We can't stress enough that the decisions made in court are binding and can be permanent. The Family Law Team at the LLF Law Firm wants to ensure these decisions are the right ones for you and your family. Schedule a consultation today by calling (888) 535-3686 or telling us about your case online.
Should You Expect Child Support?
Raising a child involves providing for their basic needs, like a safe home with heat and water, appropriate clothing, nutritious meals, and childcare or afterschool care for when parents are working. When a parent in Indiana County, PA, is ordered by the court to pay the custodial parent (typically, this is the arrangement) child support, it is these costs that are intended to be covered. Joint custody arrangements can add complexity to the specific payment amount and arrangement.
How Is Child Support Calculated?
For a guideline for what is considered an appropriate monthly child support payment, see Pennsylvania's codified measurement system. This reflects a parent's basic financial obligations according to their income and number of children. The amount a parent is required to pay may, of course, vary, but this is a general guide.
To determine the actual amount, the court will consider:
- Your child's age (or children's ages)
- Special needs your child or children might have (such as a medical condition that requires specific support or care)
- Your income and your spouse's income
- Assets you may share (Do you have rental properties or other investments?)
- Financial obligations you or your spouse may have (for example, whether one of you is paying child support for a child from a previous marriage)
Ultimately, the judge will strive to land a decision that is in the child's best interests.
How Long Can You Expect Child Support Payments?
Child support payments generally are in effect until the child's 18th birthday. In rare cases, a child may seek emancipation, and child support would no longer be applicable. In other cases, as discussed above, a child with a disability, for example, may warrant payments beyond their 18th birthday.
Should You Seek Spousal Support?
It's not uncommon to be afraid to leave a marriage and file for divorce for financial reasons. Many spouses and parents have contributed significantly for years or decades to their marriage and family but have been doing so in a way that doesn't reward them with a paycheck. You know better than anyone what you have contributed to your family and what your needs are moving forward to enjoy the same standard of living you have worked hard to have, along with your family. It's important that you not underestimate the value you have offered the marriage and family. Be sure that, after the divorce, you are set up to be able to contribute in the ways you have been doing and to support your children in the way they need to be supported.
The judge will be the one to decide if the child support needed is reasonable and necessary, based on several factors:
- The length of the marriage
- The salary you and your spouse could conceivably earn
- Your actual income and that of your spouse, including anything additional like child support payments from another parent, an inheritance, etc.
- Factors that would limit you or your spouse from reaching your earning potential (such as raising a child)
Types of Spousal Support
To determine whether spousal support is something you feel you should seek, consider the different types you may qualify for in Pennsylvania. Each type generally aligns with a different phase of separation or divorce.
- Spousal support: Are you legally separated but not officially divorced? Then, your spouse could be induced to make payments to cover your living expenses until you resolve the matter.
- Alimony Pendente Lite (APL): APL is somewhat like spousal support, but it is relevant only when one of you has officially filed for divorce. If you are awarded APL, you will not receive spousal support at the same time but rather one or the other.
- Post-divorce alimony: You're probably most familiar with this type of financial support when a marriage dissolves. Those who are financially dependent on their spouse may be awarded ongoing support payments once the divorce is finalized. The state wants these kinds of payments to be ordered because it makes it much less likely that the financially dependent spouse will need to rely on state benefits.
- Equitable reimbursement: If you are pursuing an education, training, or trade seeking to increase your earning potential, you could receive equitable reimbursement to cover living expenses while you are completing your education.
Filing for Support in Indiana County, PA
If you plan to ask for alimony or child support after your divorce is finalized, you likely will not need to file for these separately from the divorce complaint. The same is not true with APL or spousal support. To receive these, you will need to submit a request on the PA Child Support Website. This is also who you would contact to modify any existing orders.
It may be possible for you and your spouse to agree to support terms during a mediated conference. If not, support orders will be issued by a family court judge. Take these seriously, or face severe penalties.
Can You File for Support Without an Attorney?
It's definitely possible for you to file for spousal support or child support in Indiana County, PA, without an attorney. But that doesn't mean you should. Seeking legal guidance when fighting for your rights and your children's rights is something you should seriously consider, particularly if the dispute could become overly antagonistic.
Doing so also gives you peace of mind when it comes to meeting the many filing deadlines for submitting items the court is seeking, such as tax returns, financial statements, or other documentation. Don't let unfamiliarity with the esoteric details and timelines of the court put you in a vulnerable position or threaten the financial security of you and your family.
When you are ready to secure legal representation, the Family Law Team at the LLF Law Firm is here to walk you through your family law issues. The journey can be complicated, but below, we offer a general summary of what you might encounter.
A court-appointed Master mediates this conference in which you and your spouse articulate your needs, abilities, and wishes. If you have an attorney, they can prepare you for this conference and may also be allowed to attend and represent you.
If your child support case involves establishing biological paternity, you can take advantage of testing resources Pennsylvania courts offer to families.
In the event you and your spouse are unable to agree on support terms, you will receive a date for a hearing before a family court judge. It is paramount that you attend this, or you could be found to be in contempt of court, which could erode your efforts to seek support. Here, too, we advise letting an experienced attorney represent you.
How to Appeal a Support Decision
If the result of your hearing isn't what you had hoped for and you believe you need, you can file a Motion for Reconsideration. Know that this process must be meticulously followed, with stringent deadlines. Seek the advice of an attorney with experience in this area before proceeding.
How to Modify a Court Order
After an order has been put in place, there may be a need to revisit and potentially modify it. Perhaps you or your spouse (or ex) has changed jobs, now earns more or less money, has remarried, or has had a change in financial circumstances for any other reason. In this case, you can try to make a formal agreement with them (which must be ratified by the court) or instead file a petition to modify the support order.
How Are Support Orders Enforced?
Family court judges are charged with enforcing support orders, according to Chapter 37 Section 3703. Options for enforcement include:
- Charging the payee interest on delinquent payments
- Seizing their property and up to 50% of their wages to cover back-due amounts
- Entering additional judgments against them
- Requiring collateral or security for future payments
What if a Support Order Is Violated?
In a perfect world, a payee who is delinquent or who attempts to evade paying what they owe would face criminal contempt charges along with significant fines and jail time.
Understaffed and overworked family law courts, coupled with a lack of consistency and cooperation among states (when a payee moves among multiple states to try to avoid being found) as well as the practice of getting paid for work "under the table" have made it all too common for payees to get away with not paying.
This is yet another reason to hire an aggressive attorney who can be tough and persistent in ensuring authorities do everything within their power to enforce support orders.
Retain an Indiana County, Pennsylvania Support Attorney
If you are going through a separation, divorce, custody, or other family law matter in Indiana County, PA, please contact the Family Law Team at the LLF Law Firm today. We will be with you at all points along the way with keen advice, astute strategy, and a compassionate ear.
Don't take this on alone or leave any of this to chance. Be proactive in securing the legal support, advice, and representation you deserve. Call (888) 535 - 3686 to request a meeting or share your story with us online.