Spousal and Child Support
Support Considerations in Divorce. The marital relationship gives rise to a support obligation between spouses. Similarly, the parent-child relationship gives rise to a support obligation.
The lawyers at Bunde & Roberts, P.C. have many years of experience negotiating support obligations in cases with complex, high net worth issues and those without such issues. Each case is unique and requires a tailored response to maximize the benefit to the client.
Types Of Support
Support Paid to a Spouse
The term “spousal support” is the support that one spouse, generally the spouse with the higher income, pays to the other spouse before a divorce action has been filed. After a divorce action has been filed, that support is known as alimony pendente lite (APL). There are certain defenses available to a claim for spousal support that are no longer available once the support becomes APL. Generally, spousal support and APL terminate after a divorce decree is entered and all economic issues have been resolved. Once the divorce decree has been entered and the economic issues are resolved, a spouse may be ordered to pay alimony as part of that resolution.
Child support is how the parents of children who no longer live in a single household financially pay for their children’s needs while living separate and apart. Unless special and very specific circumstances exist, child support ends when a child reaches the age of 18 or graduates from high school, whichever occurs last. Pennsylvania no longer obligates separated or divorce parents to contribute to their child’s college education. However, spouses may obligate themselves to do so in a marriage settlement agreement.
Pennsylvania has enacted support guidelines for the determination of spousal support, APL, and child support. The guidelines contain formulas and a table that define the support obligation at various income levels. The guidelines also include considerations for the sharing of certain expenses such as health insurance costs, childcare, extra-curricular activity costs, private school tuition and mortgage expenses. In the case of child support, the amount of custody each parent has may affect the amount of child support ordered. The court may permit deviations from the guidelines based on certain situations. Generally spousal support, APL, and child support are modifiable upon a showing of changed circumstances.
Alimony is different from the other types of support. The support guidelines do not apply to alimony. The court determines the amount and duration of the alimony based on a list of factors found in the Divorce Code. These factors examine a parties’ reasonable needs after divorce and takes into consideration, amongst other things, the equitable distribution of marital assets. Since alimony is considered a secondary remedy to property distribution in Pennsylvania, it is not awarded in all cases. An award of a greater percentage of the marital assets may be made in lieu of alimony. Further note that alimony awarded by the court is modifiable, but negotiated alimony under a marriage settlement agreement is not modifiable unless the agreement says so.
The starting point for any support analysis is the net disposable income of each party. Sometimes, determining net disposable income is relatively straight forward, such as in the case of a W-2 wage earner. Other times, determining net disposable income is more difficult, such as in the case of a business owner, self-employed individual, or professional. There are many factors to consider in calculating net disposable income, such as the earning capacity of an unemployed or under-employed individual, and whether to characterize payments of money as income or property. Often, a forensic accountant and a vocational expert may assist in determining these considerations.
Refer to the section on our website about tax consequences related to support. Generally, however, child support and support paid to spouses (as of 2019) is not taxable to the payee or deductible to the payor.