For those of you who practice in this area or are “regulars” in the child support system, you know that every four years, the statewide child support guidelines are due for an update. The purpose is to try to keep pace with the economic times and the cost of raising children.  For the 2008 and 2012 revisions, the Domestic Relations Procedural Rules Committee retained Dr. Jane Venohr of the Center for Policy Research in Denver, CO. to compile economic data.  Dr. Venohr is again involved in the 2016 process.

The Rules Committee published its proposed guidelines on April 21. For now, they are subject to comment from any interested individual and should be directed through Bruce Ferguson, Esquire (domesticrules@pacourts.us) as counsel to the Committee.  Once the comment period closes, a final version will be sent to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for its review and decision.  Because the guidelines typically do not present policy issues, the Court has usually adopted the proposal without amendment.

The current draft guidelines make no substantive changes to the procedures by which a support order is established or modified. At the same time there is another proposed substantive modification to Pa. R.C.P. 1910-16-4(d) which may be adopted by the Supreme Court known as Recommendation 146.

Generally, the news is that costs have increased and so have the guidelines. The self-support reserve has increased 5.1% to $981.  Support for children has also increased.  Using two children for illustrative purposes, the amount of support to be allocated between the parents looks like this:

Combined income                              2012                      Proposed

5000                                                    1369                      1415

10000                                                  1981                      2044

15000                                                  2532                      2586

20000                                                  2997                      3052

25000                                                  3425                      3492

30000                                                  3836                      3902

Above 30,000                                      11.6%                    11.8%

Generally the increase ranges from 3.3% at the lower end to 1.6% at the top. The data analyzed to arrive at these values comes from September, 2015 data.  During this period the CPI for all Urban Consumers in the Northeast rose from 243.323 to 252.922.  One could suggest from this that the guidelines are not keeping pace.  But then the guidelines do not include the costs of health insurance and related expenses, which are allocated by net income “on top” of the guideline amount.  Needless to say, a major driver of consumer prices is the cost of health insurance and related care.  The same can be said for day care costs, which also travel outside the guideline amount.

In June of this year the Department of Agriculture published its annual report on the cost of raising a child in the United States.  These studies form the basis for the quadrennial changes in support guidelines throughout the US.  In 2011 the average cost of raising a child increased 3.5% over 2010.  The data show that for the average American family having a child in 2011 the cost of raising that child in today’s dollars will be $234,000 or just over $13,000 per annum.  This is the average for Americans earning $60-103,000.  In constant dollars (which is to say on an inflation adjusted basis) the cost of raising a child has increased 18% since these studies were first compiled in 1960. Families earning more than that actually spent almost $400,000 on the same enterprise, a difference of 40%.

 

The report provides information broken down regionally and by cost category.  The Northeastern US is the most expensive region in the United States.  The highest component of that cost is housing.  It absorbs 30% of the overall cost of raising a child.  Child care and education is the next highest category, constituting 18% of combined cost.  Food costs are 16%.

 

The full report is available on line at  www.cnpp.usda.gov.