Whether you've decided to separate from your spouse or you're preparing to finalize a divorce, there's no doubt that you're enduring a significantly difficult time. What's crucial now is that you get the legal support you need to navigate the challenges ahead. Part of the challenge when any family breaks down is dividing assets – and allocating financial support to the dependent spouse. And while it's sometimes possible to reach an informal agreement with your spouse, it's important that you understand your legal rights so that you can explore your options.
At the LLF Law Firm, we're here to help you through this difficult time. Our Family Law Team will listen to your concerns, consider your circumstances, and explain what type of support may be relevant to your situation. We can help you prepare to file for support, negotiate a fair amount, or even appeal a court order. To discuss how we might help, call 888.535.3686 or reach us through our contact form.
Financial Support for Spouses
There are, broadly, two types of support that a spouse can claim in Mercer County: child support and spousal support. This is because, in PA, spouses are expected to support each other (and their children) if they're financially able to do so. Let's explore the support options in more detail.
Child Support in Mercer County
Child support is a type of payment arrangement designed to meet a child's basic needs. It's based on a parent's obligation to support their biological children until they reach adulthood. Child support covers, for example, household utilities, nutrition, and clothing but can also cover more complex expenses, e.g., ongoing medical care expenses.
It's important to note that parties do not need to formally divorce for one spouse to claim child support.
How Long Spouses Can Claim Child Support
In most cases, child support ends at the age of majority, e.g., when a child turns 18. However, it may end earlier if the child is emancipated, e.g., at 16 or 17. On the other hand, you may be expected to pay child support into adulthood if the individual has, for example, severe disabilities that will require ongoing financial support and maintenance.
Child Support Calculations
There's no definitive answer to how much child support you can claim in Mercer County, PA. This is true even though there's a codified system to help judges decide on a “fair” award.
The answer depends on various factors, including but not limited to the child's age, the paying spouse's income, and the child's specific support needs. Courts also consider what other financial obligations the paying spouse has to the family unit, e.g., spousal support.
In all cases, though, the courts will weigh everything against what's in the child's best interests. Judges will look to avoid imposing undue financial hardship on the child. This could mean paying a higher level of support than perhaps anticipated to ensure the child's quality of life is not diminished.
Mercer County Spousal Support
Spousal support is paid by one spouse to the other. There are three types of spousal support, depending on what stage of separation or divorce proceedings you are at.
- Spousal Support: This covers basic living expenses after a couple separates but before they finalize a divorce.
- Alimony Pendente-Lite (APL): Triggered when a party files for divorce, APL is payable while the divorce action is pending.
- Post-divorce Alimony: Alimony is payable only to cover a dependent spouse's reasonable living expenses post-divorce. It is only for a basic level of support – enough to prevent the receiving spouse from applying for state benefits.
How to Calculate Spousal Support
Spousal support varies largely from family to family. It all depends on, for example, each spouse's actual income, their potential income due to training and education, and limitations on their income, e.g. stopping work due to raising a child.
Courts will also consider the duration of the marriage, as this may affect how long a spouse has depended on their partner financially and the impact this has on their earning potential.
Filing for Support in Mercer County
Whether you need child and/or spousal support in Mercer County, you must follow a certain administrative process. The exact requirements can vary by county, and they may be complex. To ensure you're following the most up-to-date rules, contact the LLF Law Firm for support.
Applying for Support
Any support order begins with an application. For example, you can apply for child support online or by approaching the Mercer County Domestic Relations Office at:
121 N Pitt St
Mercer, PA 16137
Office hours are typically 8.30 am - 4.30 pm, Monday through Friday.
Applications are made by the spouse seeking support. The other spouse may not even be aware, at this stage, that there's an application underway. That's why it's often best to have a lawyer in place as soon as you begin the separation or divorce process – it's the most effective way to protect your legal interests.
A support conference is a less formal way to resolve matters than a full court hearing. It's overseen by a Master who specializes in child and/or spousal support, and they'll attempt to mediate an agreement. Depending on the type of conference, your attorney may be able to actively participate on your behalf. This may be helpful because it prevents the negotiations from becoming overly emotional or protracted.
If you retain the LLF Law Firm, we will explain how a support conference works and how best to prepare for your own negotiations.
You can settle matters of child support and/or spousal support as part of the divorce negotiations. This is often best for all parties involved as the arrangements can be finalized sooner rather than later. However, it's not uncommon for child or spousal support to remain in contention when other matters (such as division of property) have been agreed. This is where court proceedings may be required.
If the parties cannot reach an agreement at the support conference, the matter proceeds to a formal court hearing before a family law judge. The judge will determine, based on evidence presented by either side, whether to grant a support order and the appropriate level of support.
Court orders, if awarded, are binding on all parties involved. And if you don't appear at the hearing, the judge will decide based on the evidence presented by your spouse. In other words, the decision is more likely than not to go against you.
Modifying Support Orders
Spousal and child support orders are designed to reflect the needs and limitations of both parties. However, they are not permanent, and they can be modified as needs and priorities change.
To change a court order, you should petition the court and seek a modification. The family court judge will consider the situation and either confirm or deny the changes. You may also approach the court to confirm informal changes you reach with your spouse.
Do you always need the court's permission to change support arrangements, even if both parties agree to the change? The short answer is yes. Otherwise, there's a risk that one spouse could change their mind and accuse the other spouse of a support order violation. If you don't get the court's permission to modify the original binding agreement, it remains in force, and violations have consequences.
Support Order Violations
It's a criminal offense to breach an order of the court – even an order issued by a civil or family court. The charge is known as contempt, and in PA, the penalties can include up to six months in jail and fines of up to $1,000. Jail time is, of course, a highly distressing prospect, but even a financial penalty can cause serious anxiety and financial hardship.
Paying spouses may avoid contempt charges by complying with the exact terms of any court order awarded against them. You should seek urgent legal advice if you cannot comply with a court order to reduce the risk of facing contempt charges.
Just as the court can impose a support order on individuals, it can also enforce the terms of such an order. This may happen if, for example, a spouse refuses to make a payment or refuses to pay the specified amount.
Enforcement options include, but are not limited to:
- Making further orders against the paying spouse.
- Arresting the paying spouse's wages.
- Charging interest on outstanding amounts.
- Seizing property from the paying spouse to cover the outstanding amount.
As we've described, violating support orders can be serious. You should consider appealing a support order or requesting a modification if you're worried about your ability to comply with an order. And if you don't understand the order or how it affects you, then your attorney should be more than happy to advise you further.
How to Appeal a Support Order in Mercer County, PA
If you're concerned about a support order, you may have legal options. You might appeal, for example, a child support decision by filing a Motion for Reconsideration with the Mercer County Domestic Relations section. You should be able to explain your grounds for appealing the decision, e.g., the judge didn't fully consider all the relevant factors before reaching a determination.
Appealing a decision does not mean the judge will reverse the order or change its terms. You must also meet certain deadlines and file specific documents to successfully request an appeal hearing. Our Family Law Team can explain the appeals process in Mercer County, PA, so you understand your options for proceeding.
The Benefits of Hiring a Family Law Attorney
It's tempting to handle family matters alone – even legal issues. After all, it's your spouse, and you know them better than anyone. However, there are significant drawbacks to negotiating settlement agreements without legal advice.
- Despite your best efforts, there's always the chance that discussions become prolonged, volatile, and unproductive. This is hardly surprising, given that you're in an emotionally charged situation. However, an attorney will keep matters sharply focused and civil. This approach increases the chances of support arrangements being agreed sooner rather than later.
- You deserve to know your legal rights and what level of support you're entitled to. Without legal support, you might put yourself at a financial disadvantage or agree to less support than you deserve.
- Court procedures are complex. If you do not file documents correctly, present evidence in a compelling way, or if you miss key deadlines, then you risk jeopardizing your case. A Mercer County family lawyer will ensure that your rights are respected and upheld, and they'll reduce the chances of procedural errors that could be fatal to your case.
Even if your spouse does not have an attorney, this does not mean that you should not be represented. If you need any more information on how our Family Law Team can support you, contact us today.
Contact the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team Now
No matter whether you're a paying or non-paying spouse, the LLF Law Firm can help. Our experienced, compassionate attorneys know what you're going through. We appreciate how difficult and confusing this time can be, and we are committed to standing by your side. From filing motions, completing paperwork, and negotiating with opposing counsel, we are here to handle the legal matters so you can focus on the future.
When you're dealing with separation or divorce, it's easy to feel alone. But the LLF Law Firm is here for you every step of the way. There's too much at stake – financially, legally, and emotionally – to leave anything to chance. Reach out to our Family Law Team at 888.535.3686 or tell us about your case. We can promptly arrange a meeting to learn more about your situation.