Initially, it is very important to understand the difference between three very similar terms: child support, spousal support and alimony. This site deals in detail with alimony and spousal support on this page. Child support at one time was a very complicated and uncertain thing to be determined because every case was decided on its own facts on a case by case basis without reference to general application of principals. Because of the recognition that such an approach could make results unfair from one case to another, the Pennsylvania Court system developed the Pennsylvania Support Guidelines. Although there are many rules for determining the outcome, see the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure 1910.16-1.
Basically, the Court uses the relative income of each party to determine what would an average couple with the number of children they have likely spend for the “needs” of those children. That result is called Basic Support and then the parent who is responsible for paying support pays a percentage of that number to the parent who is receiving support. It does not matter if the parties live in a city like Philadelphia, or a small town like Feasterville or Trevose, or even a rural area in Montgomery or Bucks County. The mathematical calculations apply evenly to evenly to everyone which can be very upsetting to a parent who has children and feels that the payment is inadequate for actual needs or a parent who is paying support and feels that it is excessive for the needs that are really required. The problem is further complicated because the courts do not consider how the receiving parent uses the money, because the idea is that each parent bears a proportionate share of the relative cost of a child’s needs.
Very often even though the calculations are not very complicated, a question arises about actual earnings of a party. The standard is “earning capacity” which usually means what the individual is actually earning in regular income.
However, the Rules consider earning capacity to be total gross income, including reimbursements, perks, commissions and the like, as well as secondary employment or even a benefit like a free car for a sales person which is not expected to be reimbursed. If a person is employed part time, it is not unusual to recalculate that person’s income on a full time basis, and, sometimes surprisingly, overtime is included on an averaged for the year basis. The calculations can be especially problematic when a party is working under the table or self-employed and additional support payments can be required to cover cost of medical coverage, daycare for a parent that needs it to work.
Clearly, a very simple calculation formula can have many complicated issues which should not be handled without the assistance of expert counsel.