The breakdown of a family unit is a highly stressful – and often emotional – time. When parents separate, they have many issues to settle, including financial matters. Some of the most significant financial issues to resolve include what financial provisions should be made for the financially dependent spouse and how parents should cover childcare costs.
If parties can't reach their own informal, out-of-court agreement, the courts can make support orders instead. In Bucks County, PA, such matters are heard by the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas. Parties seeking spousal and child support orders should file with the court's Domestic Relations Office.
Although you can file for spousal or child support without an attorney, you should have legal counsel on your side. Joseph D. Lento and his Family Law Team can assist with all matters of family law. Schedule a consultation by calling (888) 535-3686 or telling us about your case online.
Expectation of Financial Support
In PA, spouses are expected to support each other financially while they're married if they're able to do so (23 Pa. C.S. § 4321). This support also extends to their children under the age of 18 and, in some cases, to over-18s.
When spouses separate or begin divorce proceedings, there are two main types of financial support to consider: child support and spousal support.
● Child Support: Payments made by one spouse to the other to cover the costs of raising their children.
● Spousal Support: Payments made by one spouse to the other to support them financially for a period.
A spouse's entitlement to child and spousal support depends on various factors, such as whether they have just separated or filed for divorce.
Child support in Bucks County, PA, is a court-ordered payment arrangement. It compels one parent to make regular payments to the other parent to support their child financially.
Child support payments are designed to meet a child's basic needs. These needs include but are not limited to, household utilities, nutrition, clothing, and shelter.
Typically, support payments are made by the parent who does not have custody to the custodial parent, i.e., the parent the child lives with.
How Child Support Is Calculated
PA has a codified measurement system to determine child support amounts. The figures listed are only a reflection of a parent's basic financial obligations, though. The real amount of child support that a court may award could be different.
Calculating Child Support
To calculate child support in Bucks County, the court will take various factors into consideration, including:
● Any specific support needs, e.g., if the child has a certain health condition.
● Other household income, such as investments and rental properties.
● The age of the child.
● The other spouse's income and assets.
● What other financial obligations the other paying spouse has, e.g., if they're also paying spousal support.
Courts will make their determination based on the child's best interests. If, for example, a child's standard of living will be severely impacted by low child support payments, this may outweigh other factors.
How Long Child Support Lasts
In most cases, child support payments last until the child turns 18 (the age of majority in PA) or they're emancipated. Sometimes, support payments last into adulthood, e.g., if the child has a significant disability and requires longer-term support.
In PA, there are various types of spousal support. What they each have in common, though, is that they're designed to prevent a financially dependent spouse from becoming disadvantaged.
Some support arrangements may only last for a short period of time; for example, until a divorce is finalized. Other arrangements last for longer to give an ex-spouse the support they need.
Types of Spousal Support
Broadly, there are three types of spousal support in PA. The type of support a spouse may claim depends on, among other things, which stage they're at in divorce proceedings.
● Spousal support: A payment to enable one spouse to meet their basic living expenses, and other reasonable expenses, while they have separated but not yet formally divorced.
● Alimony Pendente Lite (APL): APL may be awarded while a divorce action is pending. It offers similar financial support to spousal support, but both payments can't be active at the same time. APL is typically triggered when one party files for divorce rather than parties just being separated.
● Post-divorce alimony: In some cases, the courts award the financially dependent spouse ongoing support payments after the divorce is finalized. These payments stop the spouse from relying on state benefits and help them meet their reasonable ongoing expenses.
Other forms of financial support include "equitable reimbursement," which allows one spouse to complete education or training to increase their earning potential (if, for example, their income temporarily drops because of attending school).
How Spousal Support Is Calculated
There's no automatic right to alimony. The court may only award alimony or spousal support if it's deemed reasonable and necessary. To decide, courts will consider factors such as:
● The duration of the marriage.
● Each spouse's earning potential, e.g., training and education.
● Each spouse's actual income.
● Other anticipated income, e.g., inheritances.
● Limitations on a spouse reaching their earning potential, e.g., due to raising a child.
Spousal support and alimony payments vary widely.
Court Orders for Child and Spousal Support
Typically, the spouse seeking financial support will file for child and/or spousal support. If awarded, a PA family court judge will make a civil court order outlining the paying spouse's obligations. This may include child support, spousal support, or both.
Violating a civil court order is a potentially serious offense that may incur criminal penalties.
The Court Process in Bucks County, PA
Support proceedings in Bucks County follow the court's outset procedures. Divorce, along with its related support procedures, all follow a multi-step process. Support orders will have conferences held to make attempts to resolve the situation before moving onward to the courtroom.
The information below is only a summary of what to expect. The process can be complicated, and both parties will benefit greatly from taking legal advice before reaching any financial support agreement.
Filing for Support in Bucks County, PA
Alimony is included in a divorce complaint, so there's no need to file for this separately. Spouses can file for APL or spousal support with the Bucks County Domestic Relations Office. This Office is part of the Bucks County Family Court Division. Although the Office doesn't handle matters such as divorce or child custody, it's where you should go if you want to file for support or request a modification to an existing support order.
Spouses can file for support online or attend the Doylestown Office at:
Bucks County Domestic Relations Section
100 N Main Street
Doylestown, PA 18901
A divorce decree merely ends the marriage. As noted, there must also be separate filings for all forms of support, including alimony and child support. These filings can be consolidated into divorce proceedings, as well. Most of the time, these issues must undergo a discussion phase before they can truly be resolved. A good majority of the actual negotiations of divorce for child and spousal support, along with property division, will be held at a court conference.
In matters of child support, sometimes paternity must be established before the case can move forward to discuss support. Pennsylvania courts offer paternity testing resources to families who have a child whose biological father is in dispute.
The support conference will be overseen by a court-appointed Master, who will attempt to mediate the situation and allow both parties to express their concerns. Masters will specialize in whatever type of support is being discussed, be it spousal or child support. Conferences may allow attorneys to be present and actively participate on behalf of their clients, depending on the circumstances.
An attorney can also provide coaching prior to the conference, as well. If the case cannot be settled at this phase of the process, then the matter will proceed to a full hearing with a judge.
If the case proceeds to a hearing, it will be assigned a date and time for review by a judge. At hearings, you will be represented and accompanied by your counsel. It is of utmost importance that you attend your hearing on time, as failure to do so can result in charges of contempt of court.
On top of this, if only one side is present, the judge will only hear one side of the argument and decide based on only what was presented. The judge will also direct any parties with matters of contempt, such as violations of support orders, to the prosecutor.
Why You Need an Attorney
You don't technically need a lawyer to file for spousal support or child support in Bucks County, PA. However, it's highly beneficial to hire an attorney for any family law matter, especially an issue that may become highly contentious – like financial support.
There are often deadlines for filing documents with the court, and it's crucial that you complete the right paperwork. Without an attorney to assist you, there's a risk you will miss critical deadlines or file incomplete paperwork. You may also overlook evidence that could be pivotal in proving your case since it's not always easy to determine what evidence might be relevant.
If you need us, attorney Joseph D. Lento and his Family Law Team are waiting to assist you with your family law issues.
Appealing a Support Decision in Bucks County, PA
In Bucks County, to appeal a family law decision, you can file a Motion for Reconsideration with the Family Court. The process can be complicated, and there are strict deadlines you must adhere to. An attorney should be consulted before you appeal a child support or alimony order in PA.
Modifying a Court Order
In most cases, either party can petition the court to modify a support order. This could be to increase or decrease payments, depending on the circumstances.
Alternatively, parties can reach their own agreement to modify alimony or child support payments. This agreement must be ratified by the court, though, or else the previous order still stands, and the paying spouse could be accused of violating the order.
Enforcing a Support Order
PA courts can enforce alimony and support orders. Under Chapter 37 Section 3703, a judge may enforce the order in the following ways:
● Add interest to the payments.
● Authorize the seizure of property, including payments received and investments, to cover the arrears.
● Arrange for a seizure of up to 50% of the paying spouse's wages.
● Enter a further judgment against the paying spouse.
● Require collateral or security for future payments.
Violating a Support Order
Civil court orders are legally binding orders. Should the paying spouse fail to make the required payments, or should they violate the order in any way, they could face contempt charges.
Contempt of court is a criminal rather than a civil matter. It's a potentially serious charge, and the paying spouse could face significant fines or up to six months in jail for a civil order violation.
A person who is struggling to make support payments for any reason should seek to modify the order rather than simply not make payments.
Retain a Bucks County, Pennsylvania Support Attorney
If you are dealing with matters of Family Law in Bucks County, PA, contact attorney Joseph D. Lento and his Family Law Team today. Whether you need a court order or wish to challenge an existing order, we're here to help. We can represent you at court hearings, help you present the most compelling case in your favor, and ensure that you're treated fairly every step of the way.
You do not need to go through such a stressful and difficult time alone. Get the legal support, advice, and representation you deserve. Call (888) 535 - 3686 to arrange a meeting or tell us about your issue online.