When parties separate, money inherently becomes a key issue because it is not possible to support two households at the same level with the same income that previously supported just one household.  And in most cases, one party files for child support. Practitioners must advise their clients that a child support obligation only begins on the date that the party files the complaint for child support, and not sooner.    

Once a complaint is filed, how do the courts determine each party’s income for child support purposes?  

The Pennsylvania Support Guidelines determine each party’s child support obligation based upon his or her net monthly income, and Pennsylvania law includes income from any source as income for child support purposes. 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 4302; Pa.R.C.P. 1910.16-2(a). 

To determine a party’s child support obligation, the court first calculates the party’s yearly gross income by totaling the person’s income from all sources without consideration of any deductions. The statute, (23 Pa.C.S.A. § 4302), lists many types of income including, but not limited to: 

  1. wages, salaries, bonuses, fees and commissions;
  2. net income from business or dealings in property;
  3. interest, rents, royalties, and dividends;
  4. pensions and all forms of retirement;
  5. income from an interest in an estate or trust;
  6. Social Security disability benefits, Social Security retirement benefits, temporary and permanent disability benefits, workers’ compensation and unemployment compensation;
  7. alimony if, in the discretion of the trier of fact, inclusion of part or all of it is appropriate; and
  8. other entitlements to money or lump sum awards, without regard to source, including lottery winnings, income tax refunds, insurance compensation or settlements; awards and verdicts; and any form of payment due to and collectible by an individual regardless of source. 

Then, the monthly gross income is determined based upon a six-month average of all the party’s income from any source. Pa.R.C.P. 1910.16-2(a). Finally, the court determines the party’s net monthly income pursuant to Pa.R.C.P. 1910.16-2(c)(1), which provides for only the following deductions: 

  1. federal, state, and local income taxes;
  2. F.I.C.A. payments and non-voluntary retirement payments;
  3. union dues; and
  4. alimony paid to the other party. 

Once the court has determined each party’s net monthly income, then the court uses a table to determine the support obligation. The basis support schedule can be found in the Pennsylvania Support Guidelines. The guidelines also provide the methodology for calculating support.