In the process of dissolving a marriage, one of the most emotionally charged questions to answer is how to navigate the divorce financially. It makes sense, in a way: for years, your finances have been intertwined with those of your spouse, and now you must find a way to make sure two households can be supported--along with supporting any children from the marriage.
When spouses can't decide these matters in a mutually agreeable manner, the courts must get involved. In Montgomery County, PA, the Domestic Relations Department at the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas handles matters related to spousal and child support. When addressing these complex issues, the best way to ensure a fair outcome for you and your children is by engaging an experienced Pennsylvania family law attorney. Joseph D. Lento and his Family Law Team have a proven track record in representing clients dealing with family court matters in Montgomery County, PA. To book a consultation, please call us at (888) 535-3686 or contact us online.
How Spousal and Child Support Are Viewed Legally in Pennsylvania
According to Title 23 Pa. C.S. § 4321 of the Pennsylvania statutes, married spouses are obliged to support each other in accordance with their financial means. They also bear joint responsibility for supporting any children from the marriage who are under 18 and in certain circumstances, those above 18. The courts recognize two main types of financial support in Pennsylvania: child support and spousal support.
- Child Support: Payments made by one parent to the other to assist in covering the costs of raising a child between them.
- Spousal Support: Payments made by one spouse to the other to provide financial aid for a predetermined period.
How Child Support Works in Pennsylvania
In Montgomery County, PA, child support is a court-ordered payment that one parent (usually the non-custodial parent) makes to the other parent to help cover the costs of raising a child. These payments address the child's basic needs, including utilities, nutrition, clothing, education, and housing.
Pennsylvania has a specific protocol for calculating child support amounts, but this system only covers the minimum basic needs. The actual amounts granted by the court may differ widely based on factors such as:
- Specific support needs, such as the unique health condition of the child.
- Other income in the household, like investments and rental properties.
- The child's age.
- The income and assets of the other spouse.
- Any other financial responsibilities the paying spouse may have, like spousal support.
Usually, the non-custodial parent is required to make child support payments until the child reaches 18 (the legal age in PA) or becomes legally independent. However, in some cases, payments may extend into adulthood, such as when the child has a severe disability requiring long-term support.
Spousal Support in Pennsylvania
In Pennsylvania, the main goal of spousal support is to protect a financially dependent spouse after separation or divorce. Support can be temporary, ending at divorce finalization, or long-term to ensure the ex-spouse's financial stability.
Pennsylvania recognizes three types of spousal support, each serving a different purpose:
- Spousal Support: These payments help a dependent spouse cover essential costs during the separation period before an official divorce (or sometimes during extended separations when no divorce is filed).
- Alimony Pendente Lite (APL): This is similar in scope to spousal support but is granted when divorce proceedings are initiated or in process rather than during separation.
- Post-divorce Alimony: Payments made to an ex-spouse after the divorce is finalized to ensure the spouse's financial viability.
Determining Spousal Support
There is no inherent right to spousal support or alimony in Pennsylvania. The court awards this support only when it is deemed essential and reasonable (Title 23 Pa. C.S. § 3701). Factors considered by the courts in deciding alimony may include, but are not limited to:
- The duration of the marriage.
- Each spouse's income potential based on their training and education.
- Each spouse's actual income.
- Anticipated income, such as inheritances.
- Any constraints on a spouse's ability to reach their full income potential (e.g., due to child-care responsibilities, lack of job training, etc.).
Court Procedure for Child/Spousal Support in Montgomery County, PA
In Montgomery County, divorce and subsequent support procedures follow a sequence aiming to resolve matters amicably through mediation and settlement meetings before resorting to court hearings. Although a divorce decree officially terminates the marriage, it does not resolve support or child custody issues; these require separate petitions that can then be worked into the final divorce settlement.
Below is a brief overview of the process of obtaining spousal/child support. The Family Law Team at the Lento Law Firm can assist with every stage of this process to navigate the complexities and help you obtain a favorable resolution.
Petitioning for Support
Requests for alimony are generally incorporated within the divorce complaint itself, but for spousal support or APL, you'll need to file a separate petition for these. You can file this petition online with the Montgomery County Domestic Relations Section (DRS) or fill out the petition and mail to:
P.O. Box 311
Norristown, PA 19404-0311
The next step is to attempt to reach a settlement through a court conference. A court-appointed Master supervises the support conference, mediates the discussion, and ensures that both parties have a chance to express their concerns. Attorneys may be allowed to actively participate and represent their clients during these conferences.
If a settlement cannot be reached during the conference, the support case advances to a full hearing before a Family Law Judge. It's crucial to be punctual for your hearing since nonattendance can lead to contempt of court charges. Moreover, if only one party is present, the judge will only hear one perspective, which could impact the final decision.
Challenging a Support Decision in Montgomery County, PA
To contest a child or spousal support ruling, you can submit a Motion for Reconsideration to the Family Court. Keep in mind that this process can be complex, with strict deadlines. We strongly advise seeking legal counsel before challenging a support order in Montgomery County, PA.
Amending or Modifying a Support Order
As needs and circumstances change, either party can petition the court to have a support order amended (e.g., increasing or decreasing payments in response to changes in situation). You and your ex-spouse can also reach a mutual decision to adjust support terms; however, since the court order is legally binding, be sure to submit your mutual agreement to the court for approval. If you don't, and the paying spouse changes the payment amounts without the court's knowledge, that spouse could be charged with violating the order.
How Support Orders Are Enforced in Pennsylvania
If the paying spouse fails to adhere to the support order, the courts have several options for enforcing the order. These include:
- Adding interest to the late payments.
- Sanctioning the confiscation of the other party's property to cover overdue payment amounts.
- Garnishing up to 50% of their earnings.
- Passing a further judgment against them.
- Requiring the party to offer collateral or security for future payments.
Repercussions of Violating a Support Order
Support orders, like all civil court orders, have legal force. Failing to make support payments or breaching the order can result in criminal charges for contempt of court. A conviction can lead to fines and a jail sentence of up to 6 months.
Given the high stakes, if you're struggling to make support payments due to changes in your circumstances, don't evade payment. To avoid legal repercussions, seek legal assistance to modify the order.
How a Family Law Attorney Can Help
While not obligatory, it is highly recommended to obtain legal counsel when applying for spousal or child support in Montgomery County, PA, for the following reasons:
Discussions concerning financial support can become combative. An attorney with proficient negotiation skills can either diffuse the hostility and facilitate a resolution or effectively present your case in court.
The paperwork can be complicated. Compliance with court deadlines and accurately completing the required documentation is crucial. An attorney's help ensures the paperwork is submitted correctly by the appropriate deadlines.
A lawyer can unearth critical evidence to reinforce your case which you might have overlooked. In many cases, this evidence can significantly influence the final judgment.
Obtain Legal Assistance from a Family Law Attorney in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania
The process of obtaining spousal and/or child support can be complex, frustrating, and emotionally exhausting. For the most favorable outcome, it's best to have a legal professional on your side, capable of navigating the intricacies of Pennsylvania family law and ardently advocating for your rights. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and his seasoned Family Law Team have extensive experience in these matters and can provide you with the crucial legal representation you need. We will stand by you at court hearings, assist you in presenting the strongest case possible, and ensure that you're treated fairly throughout the process. Reach out to the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 or contact us online to discuss your case.