We have had support guidelines in Pennsylvania since 1984.  The effort was part of a federal initiative to see that all families with similar levels of income paid comparable child support. A few years ago the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania modified the rules to give recognition to the fact that home mortgages represented a disproportionate amount of household expenses by creating what is called a high mortgage adjustment. If the mortgage including taxes and insurance exceeds 25% of household income after spousal and child support are included, the Courts have discretion to take the “excess” and add 50% of that excess onto the support order. Here’s how it works:

Husband and wife separate.  Husband has net income of $15,000 a month.  Wife has net income of $5,000 a month. Under the guidelines 2 children are entitled to $2,877 per month.  If they live with Wife, Husband pays 75% of the $2,877.  If they live with Husband, Wife will pay 25% of the $2,877.  Either way, wife is also entitled to support.  To calculate that one takes Husband’s net, subtracts Wife’s net AND the child support.  The difference is them multiplied by .3 to calculate the spousal support component.  Arithmetically, if the children live primarily with their mother, the calculation is expressed;

{15,000 – (($5,000 + (2877 x .75))} x .3 = $2,353 in spousal support.

With the high mortgage adjustment one next looks to the total household income of the spouse in the marital home and multiplies it by 0.25 to determine what mortgage is reasonable. So Wife’s income is her own net of $5,000 is added to child support of $2,158 and spousal support of $2,353 to equal $9,511.  By definition a reasonable mortgage is 25% of that amount or $2,378.  Any excess over that amount may be divided equally with the spouse out of the house paying that amount as the high mortgage adjustment.  So if the mortgage with taxes and insurance is $3,378 per month, the $1,000 excess would result in an additional $500 in support contributions.

A good idea on its face.  But, alas, the mortgage world we live in today is a different place. Folks who net $20,000 when living in the same household usually make gross income of $25,000 or more.  Even before the mortgage crisis of the past two years, a family which when residing together had $25,000 of gross monthly income could qualify for a mortgage of $7,500 a month.  Under the current rule, a $7,500 mortgage would warrant an excess mortgage payment of $2,561. The “excess” contribution would actually be greater than the child or the spousal support.  The combined obligation on the payor would be $7,072.

This is not itself a horrendous burden but it ignores the difficulty of the situation. The adjustment does recognize how tenuous the situation is.  Wife will have net income of $12,572 before looking at the taxes due on her spousal support. But fully 60% of that income buys nothing more than the mortgage itself.  It leaves precious little to pay “all other” household expenses.