Every day, people all over the country file for divorce or for custody of their children, setting in motion a months- and sometimes years-long process of paperwork, appearances, appeals, enforcement orders, modifications, and more. But knowing how common this is is little comfort when facing it for the first (or subsequent) time. Divorces and custody proceedings can be quick and easy, or they can be lengthy and draining mentally, emotionally, and financially.
At the LLF Law Firm, our Family Law Team's goal is to help clients navigate obtaining spousal or child support with as little pain, time, and cost as possible. We aim to secure the fairest and most beneficial outcome for you and your children so you can focus on healing and caring for yourself and your family as you enter what we hope will be a positive next chapter of your life.
Right now, you may be making lists of everything you should be documenting and gathering as supporting evidence, like previous years' tax returns. This is good thinking and planning. Even the most meticulous organizers may find it helpful to offload some of the legwork to an experienced legal team, who can make your life easier and help you focus on being your best self as you go through this trying time.
If you are dealing with issues of family law, live in Clearfield County, PA, and would like to put yourself in the best position possible as you begin negotiations, reach out to the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team soon. Schedule a consultation today by calling (888) 535-3686 or telling us about your case online.
When You Need to Go to Court to Agree on Support
Settling on child or spousal support payments independently, without the intervention of the court system, is often seen as the ideal route for coming to agreements on these important financial issues. If you are a strong advocate for yourself and your children, and you have a firm understanding of what your rights and expectations should be, then this may very well be your desired route. You can do this with or without the consultation of an attorney. It's not uncommon for spouses to retain legal defense without revealing this to the other party, so we would caution you to be as prepared and vigilant as possible when you enter into and finalize these discussions if you plan to do so alone.
As you think about what kind of support you may seek and what the amount might be, you likely know that in Pennsylvania, like many states, spouses are expected to support one another financially, when feasible, and parents are responsible for supporting their children under age 18 (or older in cases where a child's disability or medical condition requires additional care).
If you and your spouse are unable to reach an amicable agreement outside of court, decisions about support payments will be made by a family court judge, as explained later.
How to Apply for Child or Spousal Support in Clearfield County
Most people are familiar with the general concepts of child and spousal support. Clearfield County's Domestic Relations Office, under the Clearfield County Court of Common Pleas, is charged with ordering and enforcing child and spousal support obligations and describes support terms this way:
Child Support: “Support and medical coverage for dependent children.”
Spousal Support: “Support for a dependent spouse if the parties are married but living apart.”
We'll get into more detail later on this page.
To apply for child or spousal support in Clearfield County, parents are directed to contact Domestic Relations and request to be connected to an intake officer. You also have the option of filing digitally on the PA Child Support Website. Either way, you file, your case will ultimately wind up with the Domestic Relations Office.
Contact the LLF Law Firm today to help your case with the Domestic Relations Office, whether you are applying for support for the first time, are appealing an order, would like to modify an order, or are in need of help getting an order enforced.
How Do You Know If You Need Child Support?
If your child is living with you after separation or divorce, you should not be the only parent providing for their financial needs – a well-maintained and safe home to live in, well-balanced meals, medical coverage, childcare, and afterschool care and activities. It can be tempting, especially if on good terms with your child's other parent, to want to come to an informal “handshake” agreement or even to underestimate the amount of support you may require to provide for your child's needs. It's helpful to remember that requesting child support isn't self-serving. It's a matter of advocating for your child and their rights and needs.
How Much Child Support Is the Right Amount?
For families in Pennsylvania, the state's codified measurement system is a good guide for an appropriate monthly child support payment, one that reflects basic financial obligations and abilities. But this is only a guide. The actual amount may vary, depending on your children's ages and specific needs, as well as each parent's income, earning potential, assets, or other financial obligations. A family court judge will attempt to find an amount that is in your children's best interests.
Modifying Child Support Payments
You and your spouse or your child's other parent can agree to modify an existing support order if you wish. If you cannot agree, you can file a Petition to Modify the order at a conference. The LLF Law Firm can do this on your behalf.
To qualify for modification, there needs to have been a substantial change in circumstances, such as:
- A dramatic drop or spike in income
- New significant and ongoing medical expenses
- New expenses as children get older
- A custody change
Do You Need Spousal Support?
Getting out of a marriage that provides financial stability can feel frightening and risky, especially if you have devoted much of your time and resources to supporting your family in ways beyond monetary support. Will you have to find another place to live? Get another job to pay the bills? Give up enriching volunteer or social commitments? One of the most common mistakes divorcing individuals make is underestimating the value you provide to your relationship and family and what you deserve from the end of your legal union. You want to be sure that you are set up to succeed, not just for yourself but for your family.
A family court judge can determine if the spousal support you seek is reasonable and necessary, and will look at how long you were married, the earning potential of each spouse, each spouse's income, and any factors that might limit earnings, such as attending school or raising children.
Are There Different Kinds of Spousal Support?
Familiarize yourself with the variations in spousal support options in Pennsylvania to understand which you may wish to seek.
- If you are legally separated but not officially divorced, your spouse could be ordered to make spousal support payments to cover your living expenses until you resolve the matter.
- Like spousal support, Alimony Pendente Lite (APL) is meant to cover living expenses, but it comes into effect after one spouse has formally filed for divorce. You might receive spousal support after moving out, which would then switch to APL after one of your files for divorce.
- If you are financially dependent on your spouse, you may be awarded ongoing post-divorce alimony payments once the divorce is finalized. Pennsylvania has an incentive to order alimony: receiving it makes it less likely that a financially dependent spouse will need to rely on state benefits.
- If you are in school or an apprenticeship, with a goal of increasing your earning potential, you may qualify for equitable reimbursement, which would help cover living expenses during this time.
Should You Hire an Attorney to File for Support?
Having an attorney present when filing or attending conferences and hearings about child or spousal support is not required, but Clearfield County advises that an “attorney can give you helpful advice about legal matters related to your case,” and we echo this statement.
The Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania does caution individuals about representing themselves, reminding them that they are “held to the same standards as attorneys admitted to the bar of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania” and that “representing yourself does not exempt you from understanding and following statewide and local Rules of Court.”
If you are considering securing legal representation, the Family Law Team at the LLF Law Firm is here to work with you every step of the way, including your initial support conference, filing an appeal, modifying a court order, and requesting support in enforcing an order.
What Happens After You File for Child or Spousal Support?
After you've filed your formal request for support, you and your spouse will receive a “conference notice,” which is a court order to attend the meeting. Make sure you don't miss this, as the case may be heard with just one side present. If you have requested support, and there is proof that your spouse or your child's other parent received the conference notice, they may receive a warrant for their arrest for failing to appear.
You'll be directed to bring the following to your support conference:
- Your most recent Federal Income Tax Return
- Payroll stubs for the past six months
- Proof of any unemployment, worker's compensation, or other benefits you receive, including account numbers and contact information of the providers
- Business records and financial statements if you are self-employed
- A completed income and expense statement (you will receive this in the mail with your conference notice)
- Proof of childcare expenses
- Proof of medical coverage, if you have it, including costs associated with coverage for your children and/or spouse
- Professional or occupational license information, if you work under a license
How Is the Support Amount Calculated?
Earlier, we discussed how family court judges look at factors like income, earning potential, and individual needs of a child when determining child support. When determining spousal support, judges look at a number of things to decide case by case. This may include:
- Your monthly income over the last six months
- Any fluctuating income you receive, such as payment for seasonal work
- How much you could potentially be earning
- Proof of any voluntary payments you may have made to your spouse before anyone filed for child or spousal support
- Your mortgage payment, if you are living in the house and responsible for the monthly mortgage
- Expenses relating to childcare
- Expenses relating to private schooling
- Your custody arrangement details
- Proof of medical support, if applicable
Appealing a Support Order
The goal of the support conference is for both parties to agree on a support arrangement. When this is not possible, the conference officer will issue a recommended order, and this will be mailed to you. If you wish to appeal this order, you have ten days to do so before the order is finalized.
Appealing the recommended order is called a DE NOVO, and the LLF Law Firm can assist you in filing this request, as these are typically filed by attorneys. After filing, the previously issued order is considered temporary, and a hearing date will be scheduled for Support Court. At this hearing, we will argue your position. The judge's decision after hearing arguments will be final.
Enforcing a Support Order
If your spouse or child's other parent does not meet their support obligations (if they haven't made a required payment in 30 days or if their wages have not been garnished), Domestic Relations should initiate enforcement. In the absence of a payment after receiving an initial reminder from Domestic Relations, the defendant will likely be found to be violating the court order and could be ordered to attend a Contempt Hearing. At the hearing, they may be ordered to make back payments, secure employment if unemployed, or even serve time in jail.
If you are owed a minimum of $500 (or three months' worth) in past-due child support payments, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) may intercept federal tax refunds in order to recover the amount owed to you.
Clearfield County's Domestic Relations may also:
- Report a delinquent payer to the Credit Bureau after 60 days of not paying
- Ensure that banks and mortgage and title companies are aware of the arrears so that past due payments automatically become a lien. They would need to pay the lien before qualifying to buy, sell, or refinance property.
- Request that the defendant's driver's license be suspended
Work With a Clearfield County, Pennsylvania Support Attorney
If you reside in Clearfield County, PA, and are experiencing a separation, divorce, custody, or another family law matter, the Family Law Team at the LLF Law Firm wants to help. We will stand by your side with experience, negotiation skills, and confidence in you and your case.
When planning for your future, one in which you are best positioned to be happy, independent, and successful, make sure you secure the best legal support, advice, and representation possible. Call (888) 535-3686 to request a meeting or share your situation with us online.