Most child support cases in Pennsylvania are decided based upon the Pennsylvania Support Guidelines ("Guidelines") found at Pa.R.C.P. 1910.16-3. The Guidelines are utilized for any case in which the parents’ combined net monthly income is $20,000 or less. The amount of support dictated by the Guidelines is subject to reduction if the parties have shared (50/50) physical custody or if the payor has substantial physical custody (at least 40% of overnights). The reduction in the child support payments for shared or substantial physical custody ranges from 10% to 20% of the payor’s proportionate share of the total support obligation. See Pa.R.C.P. 1910.16-4.
Cases in which the parties’ combined net monthly income exceeds $20,000 are decided outside the Guidelines, based upon a formula set forth in the case of Melzer v. Witsberger, 480 A.2d 991 (Pa. 1984). In these high income cases, a presumptive minimum amount of support is established based upon the Guidelines. However, the actual support award may be higher, based, in large party, upon children’s reasonable expenses.
Although an automatic reduction in support is made in Guidelines cases based upon shared or substantial physical custody, the same reduction does not apply in high income support cases. The Pennsylvania Superior Court recently held that shared physical custody does not affect a Melzer calculation.
This recent Superior Court decision highlights the expense driven nature of cases decided under Melzer. Although case law instructs courts to be flexible in considering other factors in addition to expenses, under the shared physical custody arrangement in Bulgarelli, the court declined to deviate from the standard Melzer calculation. The parties’ and children’s expenses are the paramount focus of any Melzer analysis, not the custody schedule.