How is Child Support in Pennsylvania Determined?

Child support in Pennsylvania (and 36 other states) is centered on the Income Shares Model, which is based on the concept that children should receive the same proportion of parental income that they would have received if the parents lived together. That amount is found to be related to the level of household income and the number of children for food, housing, transportation, clothing, $250 in annual  medical expenses for each child, and miscellaneous items that are needed and provided for by their parents. This amount is expressed by the child support guidelines.

These guidelines may be adjusted by the court based on additional information regarding special needs and obligations, e.g., private schooling or extraordinary medical expenses. The current schedule for monthly child support up to $30,000 combined monthly net income can be found here.

If monthly combined net income is above $30,000 the amount may be increased based on how much it costs to maintain whatever lifestyle the child has become accustomed to without burdening the custodial parent. Generally, when combined monthly parental income exceeds $30,000 (after deductions), the court orders parents to pay the highest basic support obligation for their number of children, plus a percentage of the amount over $30,000.

  • One child: $2,839 plus 8.6 percent of the combined monthly parental income over $30,000
  • Two children: $3,902 plus 11.8 percent
  • Three children: $4,365 plus 12.9 percent
  • Four children: $4,824 plus 14.6 percent
  • Five children: $5,306 plus 16.1 percent
  • Six children: $5,768 plus 17.5 percent

Parents’ Individual Payments. Child support in Pennsylvania is paid to the custodial parent. If shared custody, support is paid by the parent with the higher net income. When the parents share custody such that the support-paying parent has more than 30% of overnights with the children, a reduction is made accordingly.

Earning capacity may be considered if higher than actual income. Each parent’s contribution takes into account a “self-support reserve” that represents the poverty level of one person as well as an assumption that the children will spend up to 30% of their time with the support-paying (aka “obligor”) parent.

Net Income. Net income is based on a six month average of a party’s income and includes income from any source, including employee wages, businesses owned, pensions and other retirement, estates and trust, social security, tax refunds, awards and verdicts, and alimony that is intended to finance the support-receiving parent (aka “obligee”). Gross income is reduced by mandatory payments, e.g., taxes, FICA, and union dues but not discretionary deductions, e.g., retirement contributions. It may be further lessened by alimony paid to a former spouse or child support for other children of the obligor parent.

Basic Child Support Calculation

The basic child support calculation is determined by

  1. The child support guidelines that take into account the parents’ combined net income and the number of children (see the PA Child Support Guidelines)
  2. The parents’ respective percentages of net income
  3. Adjustments for shared custody
  4. Additional expenses, e.g., child care, health insurance, medical over $250 per child
  5. Other adjustments, e.g., alimony, other children, extraordinary medical expenses, a new spouse’s income. A basic calculator can be found here.

Example Calculations

Example 1: Basic Calculation. Consider the hypothetical case of Keith and Audrey. Keith is the primary physical custodian of their child and has a monthly income of $2,500 after deductions. Audrey has a monthly income of $3,500 after deductions.

Keith and Audrey add their monthly net incomes together to get $6,000.

Keith divides his monthly earnings of $2,500 by $6,000 to get 0.4167, meaning he earns 41.67 percent of the combined income. Audrey divides her earnings of $3,500 by $6,000 to get 0.5833, or 58.33 percent.

Keith divides his monthly earnings of $2,500 by $6,000 to get 0.4167, meaning he earns 41.67 percent of the combined income. Audrey divides her earnings of $3,500 by $6,000 to get 0.5833, or 58.33 percent.

Audrey, the parent with partial physical custody, multiplies $1,761 by 0.5833 to find she must pay Keith $1,027 a month.

Example 2: Shared Custody. Audrey spends three days a week with the kids (40 percent of parenting time), so she qualifies for a 10 percent reduction. She takes her portion of the combined monthly income, 58.33 percent (from Step 3) and decreases it by 10 percent to get 48.33 percent. She multiplies the new percentage by the combined basic support obligation from Step 4 to get her reduced amount: $851 (.4833 X $1,761).

Example 3: Low Income. Consider Paul, who has a monthly net income of $1,150 and must pay support for two children. The support schedule shows the obligation based on his income and number of children is $154 due to his low income status.

The other parent has a monthly net income of $1,000, making their combined monthly parental income $2,150. According to the chart, their combined obligation is $735. With 53.49 percent of the income (see Step 2 for calculation instruction), Paul’s individual obligation would be $393.15, per the guideline formula.

Paul will pay $154 per month in support, the lesser of the two results.

Example 4: High Income. Fern and Roger have two children and a combined monthly income of $35,000. They find the highest support obligation on the schedule for their number of children is $3,902.

Next, they multiply $5,000, the amount over $30,000, by 11.8 to get $59,000, then divide by 100 to determine they must add $590 to the amount from the schedule.

They add $590 to $3,902 to determine their adjusted combined support obligation is $4,492.

To calculate the amount he must pay as the partial parent, Roger multiplies $4,492 by his percentage of the monthly income, which is 52 percent (see Step 3). Roger owes Fern $2,336 monthly (4,492 X 0.52) before deviations for shared custody and other expenses.

Read more on divorce financial considerations here.

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How is Child Support Determined in Maryland?

Child support in Maryland (and 36 other states) is centered on the Income Shares Model. This is based on the concept that children should receive the same proportion of parental income that they would have received if the parents lived together. That amount is related to the level of household income and Number of children. Factors include food, housing, transportation, clothing, $250 in annual  medical expenses for each child, and miscellaneous items that are needed and provided for by their parents. This amount is expressed by the child support guidelines.

Income and Calculations of Support

Calculations for child support in Maryland are based on gross income and includes income from any source. These include employee wages, and businesses owned. It also encompasses pensions and other retirement, estates and trust, social security, tax refunds, awards and verdicts, severance pay, and alimony received. In-kind payments made by an employer that reduce personal living expenses are considered as well. Adjusted gross income is calculated by considering alimony that is intended to finance the support-receiving parent (aka “obligee”) and pre-existing child support. From here, adjustments are made for work-related childcare, health insurance, and extraordinary medical expenses (over $250 per child per year), transportation to/from each parent’s home, and private schooling for special education needs. In Maryland, If monthly combined gross income is above $15,000 the amount may be increased at the discretion of the court. 

When earning capacity is higher than actual income, it may be taken into account. Each parent’s contribution allows for a “self-support reserve” that represents the poverty level of one person. Additionally, there is an assumption that the children will spend up to 35% of their time with the support-paying (aka “obligor”) parent.

Parents’ Individual Payments

The custodial parent receives child support in Maryland. If shared custody, the parent with the higher income pays the child support. When the parents share custody, if the support-paying parent has more than 35% of overnights with the children, adjustments are made.

Example Calculations

Example 1: Sole Custody

Consider the hypothetical case of Keith and Audrey. Keith is the primary physical custodian of their child and has a monthly income of $6,000. Audrey has a gross monthly income of $8,000. Alimony will be awarded to Keith at $500 per month. They have three children. Audrey pays $300 per month for the children’s health insurance and each parent pays $600 per month for work-related child care.

The Math

Keith and Audrey add their monthly incomes together to get $14,000. Keith divides his monthly adjusted earnings of $6,500 by $14,000 to get 0.4643, meaning he earns 46.43 percent of the combined income. Audrey divides her adjusted earnings of $7,500 by $14,000 to get 0.5357, or 53.57 percent. In this case, the child support obligation for combined incomes of $14,000 with three children is $3,154 per month. Adding in the expenses for health insurance that Audrey pays and each parent’s child care expenses, the total child support is now $4,654.

Keith’s share of support is 46.43% of $4,654 or $2,160.85. Audrey’s share is 53.57% of $4,654 or $2493.15. Taking into account the direct pays for health insurance and child care, Keith’s child support is $1560.85 and Audrey’s is $1593.15. Therefore, Audrey will pay Keith $1593.15 per month for child support in addition to the $500 per month of alimony.

Example 2: Shared Custody

Audrey has the children for three nights per week with the kids. As such, we calculate she has the children for 156 of 365 nights per year.  When parents share custody, the State increases the combined child support obligation by 1.5 times. Therefore we take the child support obligation for combined incomes of $14,000 with three children of $3,154 per month and multiply it by 1.5 to get the new obligation of $4,731. Since Keith has the children 57.26% of the time, his obligation is $2196.60 and Audrey’s is 42.74% or $2534.40. 

The Math

First, we look what each parent needs to pay the other for time with other parent by multiplying the respective support obligations by the other parent’s percentage of time. Keith will pay Audrey 42.74% of his obligation of $2196.60, or $938.83, and Audrey will pay Keith 57.26% of her obligation of $2534.40, or $1451.20. The net is that Audrey will pay Keith $512.37. 

Next we need to look at the direct payment adjustments based on each parent’s respective time with the children. For childcare, Keith will pay 46.43% and Audrey 53.57% of $1200. The difference between the two is that Audrey will pay Keith $42.84 monthly for childcare. Likewise, Keith must pay Audrey $139.29 for his portion of the health insurance. The net is that Keith will pay $96.45 for his portion of these expenses. 

Finally, we subtract $96.45 from $512.37. Audrey will pay Keith $415.92 for child support in addition to $500 per month for alimony. This a significant reduction for the shared custody allowance.

 What does it all mean?

If this seems complicated, it sort of is. The calculators provided by the state, though, make it much easier to see. Try it for yourself.

Read more on divorce financial considerations here.

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