The breakup of a family unit is difficult enough on its own--but it becomes even more emotionally charged and complicated when it comes to figuring out financial arrangements post-divorce. This issue only becomes more challenging the longer a family has been together because the couple has become interdependent on each other. As if that weren't enough, the challenge of how to cover the costs of childcare between two separate households can be overwhelming at best--and it's very common for parents to disagree vehemently on the contributions of each parent to the child's care.
If the involved parties fail to reach a personal, out-of-court agreement regarding child support and/or spousal support, court-issued support orders become the only alternative. In Delaware County, PA, such cases are handled by the Domestic Relations Office of the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas in Media, PA.
With so much at stake, the best way to navigate a successful resolution regarding support is with the help of an experienced family law attorney. Joseph D. Lento and his Family Law Team are highly experienced in all aspects of Pennsylvania family law. To schedule a consultation, call (888) 535-3686 or reach out online.
Financial Support and the Law
In Pennsylvania, spouses have a mutual legal obligation to support each other when their marriage dissolves, provided they are in a position to do so (23 Pa. C.S. § 4321). This mutual obligation also extends to their children under 18 and, in some instances, to those over 18. When the couple separates or initializes divorce proceedings, two types of financial support must be considered: child support and spousal support.
- Child Support: Funds transferred from one spouse to the other to assist with the costs of raising their children.
- Spousal Support: Monetary assistance provided by one spouse to the other for a specific duration.
Child support refers to a court-mandated payment arrangement that obligates one parent to make regular payments to the other to help financially with the costs of raising and taking care of their child. Child support payments are designed to meet a child's essential needs, which include, but are not limited to, utilities, nutrition, clothing, education, and housing. Typically, the non-custodial parent makes support payments to the custodial parent, that is, the parent with whom the child resides.
Calculating Child Support
Pennsylvania has established a set system of criteria to determine child support amounts. However, these figures merely represent a parent's baseline financial responsibilities--the courts may vary from these calculations depending on the specific needs of the situations.
To calculate child support in Delaware County, the court will consider multiple factors, including:
The income and assets of the custodial and non-custodial spouses.
The child's age.
Special needs and requirements (e.g., if the child has a particular health condition).
Other household income sources, such as investments and rental properties.
Any other financial obligations of the paying spouse (e.g., if they are also providing spousal support).
Courts base their decisions on the best interests of the child. If, for example, a child's living standard would be adversely affected by low child support payments, this factor may be prioritized.
In most scenarios, child support payments continue until the child reaches 18 (the age of majority in PA) or becomes emancipated. Occasionally, payments extend into adulthood--for instance, if the child has a severe disability requiring long-term support.
In Pennsylvania, spousal support exists for the purpose of helping a financially dependent spouse avoid undue hardship during and after a separation or divorce. Some support arrangements may only persist for a brief period, such as until a divorce is finalized. Other arrangements may last longer to provide the necessary support to an ex-spouse.
Types of Spousal Support
Broadly, there are three categories of spousal support in Pennsylvania. The type of support a spouse may claim depends on several factors, including their stage in the divorce proceedings.
- Spousal support: This is a regular payment made to enable a dependent spouse to cover their basic living and other reasonable expenses while separated but not yet legally divorced.
- Alimony Pendente Lite (APL): APL is a temporary form of support usually granted when one party files for divorce. It's similar in scope to spousal support but is designed for a pending divorce, where spousal support is typically assigned during separation.
- Alimony: Ongoing payments awarded in certain cases to a dependent spouse post-divorce. These payments prevent the spouse from relying on state benefits and assist them in meeting their ongoing reasonable expenses.
In addition to these, the court may award other types of support based on particular circumstances--for example, if one spouse is returning to school to improve their earning potential, the court may have the other spouse pay "equitable reimbursement" to supplement their income or cover their tuition while the spouse is in school.
How Spousal Support Is Calculated
There is no automatic entitlement to alimony in Pennsylvania. The court may only award alimony or spousal support if it is deemed reasonable and necessary, considering factors such as the following:
- How long the couple was married.
- Each spouse's earning potential, e.g., training and education.
- Each spouse's actual income.
- Other expected income, e.g., inheritances.
- Obstacles in a spouse reaching their earning potential (e.g., due to child-rearing or educational limitations).
Based on these criteria, spousal support and alimony payments can vary significantly, some payments being much higher or much lower than others.
Court Orders for Child and Spousal Support
Typically, the spouse who seeks financial assistance will apply for child and/or spousal support. If granted, a Pennsylvania family court judge will issue a civil court order delineating the responsibilities of the paying spouse. This may encompass child support, spousal support, or both. Breach of a civil court order is a potentially grave offense that could lead to criminal penalties.
Navigating the Court Process for Support in Delaware County, PA
In Delaware County (and the rest of Pennsylvania), the courts have established specific protocols and procedures for petitioning for child and/or spousal support in the process of a divorce. Cases must go through a set of preliminary steps before making it to family court for litigation. The process may be complicated and emotionally charged, so it's highly advisable to obtain experienced legal representation before agreeing to any support arrangement. Here's a quick overview of the steps:
Petitioning for Support
Post-divorce alimony requests are included within a divorce complaint, so there's no need to file separately for it. As for spousal support, APL, or child support, you'll apply for these via the Delaware County Domestic Relations Office of the Court of Common Pleas. (Note that this is a separate office from the Office of Judicial Support, which is for filing for divorce or child custody.)
Spouses can submit a support request online or visit the office in person at:
- Delaware County Domestic Relations
- Curran Building, County Courthouse Complex
- Second and Orange Streets
- Media, PA 19063
A divorce decree solely terminates the marriage; for spousal and/or child support, these must be filed separately, but they can then be consolidated into divorce proceedings. Most of the time, these issues require a negotiation phase to be fully resolved. The majority of negotiations for child and spousal support, along with property division, take place during a court conference.
In child support cases, paternity may need to be established before the case can progress to discuss support. Pennsylvania courts provide paternity testing resources for families where the biological father of a child is disputed.
A court-appointed Master, who specializes in the type of support under discussion, oversees the support conference. The Master will attempt to mediate the situation, allowing both parties to voice their concerns. Depending on the circumstances, attorneys may be present and actively represent their clients during conferences. If the question of support cannot be settled at this stage, it will proceed to a full hearing with a judge.
If the case advances to a hearing, it will be scheduled for review by a judge. You should be represented and accompanied by your counsel at hearings. If you are scheduled for a hearing, make sure you show up on time to avoid contempt of court charges. If only one party is present, the judge will only consider one perspective and make a decision based on the presented argument. The judge will also refer any parties with contempt issues, such as violations of support orders, to the prosecutor.
Why You Need a Lawyer for Spousal/Child Support in Delaware County
While there are resources available for you to self-file for spousal or child support in Delaware County, PA, your chances of a favorable outcome are much better with an experienced family law attorney representing your interests. Some reasons why:
- Family law cases, particularly those concerning financial support, often escalate into disputes. A proficient attorney skilled in negotiation can defuse tensions and strive for a peaceful resolution. Alternatively, they can effectively present your case in court, advocating on your behalf with conviction.
- It ensures all paperwork is correctly filed by court deadlines. Filing for support is a complicated business, and without legal representation, you risk missing important deadlines or filing incomplete paperwork, either of which could hurt your case.
- Don't miss out on key evidence. Many times, an attorney will notice aspects of your case that you've overlooked. These aspects could greatly strengthen your case, and you could miss them otherwise.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his Family Law Team stand ready to help you navigate your family law issues in Delaware County.
Challenging a Support Decision in Delaware County, PA
If you wish to challenge a family law decision, you can file a Motion for Reconsideration with the Family Court. The process can be complex and strict deadlines must be adhered to. For best results, seek legal counsel before filing this motion. Attorney Lento and his Team can ensure this motion is filed correctly with the best chance for success.
Modifying a Court Order
As family circumstances change, either party can typically petition the court to modify a support order. This could be to increase or decrease payments, depending on the circumstances. Alternately, both parties can agree among themselves to modify alimony or child support payments. However, this agreement must be approved by the court; otherwise, the previous order remains in effect, and the paying spouse could be accused of violating the order if you fail to have the new agreement ratified.
Enforcement of a Support Order
In Pennsylvania, courts have the authority to enforce alimony and child support orders if the spouse isn't paying properly. According to Chapter 37 Section 3703 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, a judge can enforce the order via several methods, including:
- Adding interest to the payments.
- Authorizing the confiscation of assets, inclusive of payments received and investments, to cover outstanding arrears.
- Coordinating a wage garnishment of up to 50% of the paying spouse's income.
- Instituting an additional judgment against the paying spouse.
- Mandating collateral or security for prospective payments.
Failing to Comply with a Support Order
Civil court orders are legally enforceable mandates. If the paying spouse neglects to fulfill the stipulated payments or contravenes the order in any manner, they could be held in contempt of court, which is a criminal offense. This potential charge can lead to substantial fines or imprisonment for up to six months. If you are struggling to make support payments for any reason, it is in your best interests to petition for a modification of the order rather than simply default on payments.
Engage a Delaware County, Pennsylvania Support Attorney Today
If you are grappling with matters regarding spousal support, child support, or other family law matters in Delaware County, PA, Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his Family Law Team have the experience necessary to help you obtain the most favorable possible resolution. Whether you need a court order or intend to contest an existing one, we are here to help with negotiations, represent you in court hearings, help you put forth the strongest case in your favor, and ensure that you receive fair treatment throughout the process. Contact us at (888) 535-3686 to schedule a consultation or share your concerns online.