Among some of the more frustrating situations I have seen clients deal in their cases is the presence of “other money,” usually in the form of a new spouse or the other party’s parent who contributes money which isn’t considered “income” under Pennsylvania’s Support Guidelines and, therefore, not included in determining the receiving party’s net income available for support. In other words, the court will not necessarily consider an ex-wife’s rich new husband when determining the child support obligation.
For as much as child support obligations are determined by the support guidelines, there is still an element of evaluation and assessment which may occur by the court under Pennsylvania Rule 1910.16-6. This rule deals with “deviations” to the guideline support amount.
Rule 1910.16-6 identifies nine areas for deviations:
1) Unusual needs and unusual fixed obligations;
2) Other support obligations of the parties;
3) Other income in the household;
4) Ages of the children;
5) The relative assets and liabilities of the parties;
6) Medial expenses not covered by insurance;
7) Standard of living of the parties and their children;
8) In a spousal support or alimony pendente lite case, the duration of the marriage from the date of marriage to the date of final separation; and
9) Other relevant and appropriate factors, including the best interests of the child or children.
For the purposes of this discussion, I am going to address “other income in the household.” There is not a specific definition of “other income” in the support guidelines, but that actually serves as an advantage to litigants because it frees them to argue for the specific facts in their case which justify a deviation under this section.
The main case which is referenced for “other income in the household” is a 2009 Pennsylvania Superior Court case, Silver v. Pinskey, which considered the children’s social security derivative benefit as income. The parties had 50/50 custody of the children and the designated payee of the social security benefit had been changed from mother to father at some point.
The Court first undertook a support calculation and determined that Husband’s support obligation was $0.00. However, due to the receipt of this income in the form of the children’s social security derivative benefit, he was ordered to split the derivative benefit with mother.
Husband argued, unsuccessfully, that federal statutes precluded the inclusion of this benefit for child support purposes, but the trial court felt that his receipt of this income in his household justified the deviation. This made sense considering the parties were equally sharing custody of the children.
Later, in 2010, Rule 1910.16-2(b)(2) was amended to deal with social security benefits made to a child, but that does not change the methodology behind the Silver Court’s decision to develop a justification under Rule 1910.16-6 to reach the outcome it deemed appropriate. The Court did not consider father’s receipt of that benefit as the designated payee to be something he should retain to the exclusion of mother. The parties were, theoretically, spending equal time and money with the children; father’s retention of the children’s benefits would have constituted a windfall to him.
This is a very narrow case, but based on the language of the rule and the discretionary nature of support deviations, it is possible that any number of forms of “household income” could justify a deviation. It is difficult to assess with any certainty how a spouse’s income would impact the other spouse’s support case, but it is clear that the courts are prepared to hear argument on those facts and consider whether there is sufficient justification to deviate from the guideline support order. The most important part is to be prepared to offer substance to the argument to give the Court the room it needs to articulate a clear and justifiable reason to deviate from the support order.(Photo Credit: www.kenlauher.com) ________________________________________________________________________ Aaron Weems is an attorney and editor of the Pennsylvania Family Law Blog. Aaron is a partner in Fox Rothschild’s Blue Bell, Pennsylvania office and practices throughout the greater Philadelphia region. Aaron can be reached at 610-397-7989; firstname.lastname@example.org, and on Twitter @AaronWeemsAtty.