All noncustodial parents pay child support. Here’s everything to know about child support laws in Pennsylvania.
The noncustodial parent’s income, after paying certain deductions such as taxes and health insurance, determine child support costs.
What is child support?
Except for joint physical custody cases, child support is money a non-custodial parent pays the custodial parent (the parent that a child primarily lives with).
A child support order explains how much and how often support payments should be made. A support office establishes the order and will determine the amount of child support based on numerous factors, including the time each parent is responsible for the child and other income information. A judge may repeal support orders.
Child Support Responsibilities in Pennsylvania
Under Pennsylvania Family Law (Section 4321), married parents are responsible for supporting the child to the extent of the parents’ abilities. Parents must support unemancipated children until the child is:
18 years or older
Graduated high school
Child support is still applicable even if a child is conceived as a result of:
- Statutory sexual assault
- Sexual intercourse offense
- Institutional sexual assault
If the child has physical or emotional challenges, support may continue indefinitely.
Medical support must be included in a child support order. If both the noncustodial and custodial parents can provide medical support, they must do so. Unless the noncustodial parent pays medical fees for the child, the custodial parent should.
A court may order one or both parents (no matter marital status) to provide for educational costs. Both parents share the responsibility for the child’s post-secondary education.
Requesting Child Support in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania law (Section 4322) considers both the child’s needs and the obligor’s ability (spouse paying support) when deciding the amount of child support to be paid.
Factors may include:
- Net income
- Each parent’s earning capacities
The parents should review the child support order at least once every four years. The amount of the support may be altered if substantial circumstances affect the noncustodial parent’s ability to pay support.
A child support order includes:
- Monetary support (food, clothing, and shelter)
- Health insurance
- Education expenses
- Child care expenses
- Medical care
- Visitation travel costs
- Extracurricular activities
The following factors may determine educational support costs:
Financial resources of parents and students
Total of educational loans and financial assistance
Student’s ability and willingness to complete their education
The following factors may affect child support costs:
- Physical custody schedule
- Number of children to support order
- Monthly after-tax incomes of both parties
- Additional expenses
The parent with more than 50% of overnights with a child receives primary custody. However, the noncustodial parent receives a discount amount of child support if the parent has more than 40% of overnights.
If the child custody schedule is a 50-50 split, the parent with the higher income pays child support in Pennsylvania. Under Pennsylvania Code Rule 1910.16-2, the monthly gross income is based on a six-month average.
Sources of income may include:
- Wages, salaries, bonuses, fees, and commissions
- Net income from businesses or property investment
- Interest, rent, royalties, and dividends
- Income from estate or trust
- Social Security benefits, worker’s compensation
From monthly income, the court will deduct taxes and union dues to calculate the amount of child support necessary.
Calculating Child Support Costs in Pennsylvania
Determine the combined monthly net income of both parents. Figure out the percentage of each parent’s contribution to the combined monthly income. Under Pennsylvania’s Basic Child Support Obligation Guidelines, preliminary monthly child support may be calculated by multiplying the basic child support by the percentage contribution of each parent.
Major additional expenses, such as health insurance, childcare expenses, and tuition are split depending on the contributing percentage of each parent’s monthly income.
Factors Affecting Child Support
Child support guidelines are determined based on the combined monthly net income of both parents and the number of children to be supported.
Alimony may not necessarily be considered income unless the money will finance the day-to-day living expenses of the custodial parent. On occasion, a noncustodial parent may voluntarily become unemployed or reduce their income to lower the basic support obligation costs. Under Pennsylvania law, a court will not lower the cost of child support accordingly, and will instead impute the parent’s income, and calculate child support based on what the parent should be earning.
Under involuntary circumstances like incarceration, illness, and job termination, the noncustodial parent’s monthly net income will adjust accordingly.
Under 231 Pennsylvania Code Rule 1910.16-2, factors deciding a noncustodial parent’s earning capacity may include:
- Child care responsibilities and expenses
- Employment and earning history
- Job skills
- Educational attainment
- Age, health
- Criminal record and employment barriers
- Record of seeking work, availability of work, earning level in the community
Modifying Child Support Orders in Pennsylvania
Parents may petition the court to modify the child support order if prevailing circumstances affect the amount of child support the parent is able to pay. Further, the Domestic Relations Section (DRC) will notify a parent about reviewing the child support case every three years.
Factors relating to child support modification may include:
- Significant increase or decrease in parental income
- Significant child medical expenses
- Child care or medical insurance changes
- Reconciliation of parents
- The graduation of the child from high school or the child turns 18 (whichever comes first)
- Living changes
To modify child support, either spouse must file a petition for modification. The petition may not be withdrawn until both parties consent.
Find relevant forms here for the petition to modify or terminate existing support orders.
Paying Child Support in Pennsylvania
Child support is mostly paid through income withholding which the Pennsylvania Child Support Enforcement System maintains. The employer who receives the court order for the child support withholding will take the money and send it to the custodial parent.
The support may be taken from:
- Unemployment compensation
- Workers’ compensation
- Social security
- Retirement and pension benefits
Noncustodial parents without income withholding may pay child support through:
- Personal check, cashier’s check, or money orders
- Recurring automatic withdrawals
- Credit or debit card
The check should be made payable to PA SCDU (State Collection and Disbursement Unit) and the payment coupon attached to the check. The address for the payment is:
P.o Box 69110
Harrisburg, PA 17106-9110
The parent should also include their social security.
Payments may be made over the phone through the noncustodial parent’s checking or savings account. Contact Customer Service at 1-877-727-7238 for more instructions.
Recurring Automatic Withdrawals
Support payments may be made through an automatic withdrawal by calling the above number and setting up a bank account with the child support program in the county of the noncustodial parent.
Pennsylvania SCDU accepts Visa, MasterCard, or Discover, and the payment may be made online or by phone at 1-800-955-2305.
Receiving Child Support in Pennsylvania
To receive child support, citizens in Pennsylvania have two different methods:
- EPPICard Debit MasterCard Card
- Direct deposit
The EPPICard is set up to receive payments only for child support. Individuals may use the money at any location available for Mastercards to be used.
Direct deposits into checking or savings accounts should be done through the PA State Collection and Disbursement Unit.
Terminating Child Support Orders in Pennsylvania
Under Pennsylvania law (Chapter 1910.19), spousal support and alimony may terminate when the noncustodial parent dies. Child support does not terminate automatically; rather, terminating a child support order must go through a court.
Child support may terminate for a number of reasons, such as:
- Termination of parental rights
- Change in parental living or financial situation
- Incapacitation of paying parent
- The paying parent no longer earns income or other financial circumstances restricting the parent from being able to pay
- Change in the child’s situation (ex. Emancipation, marriage, military service, custody)
FAQs About Child Support in Pennsylvania
Related: Pennsylvania Child Custody FAQs
How do you find out the basic child support schedule for non-custodial parents?
Under Pennsylvania Code Chapter 1910.16-3, a table illustrates the combined adjusted net income and the number of children to determine the basic child support obligation.
What is included in a child support order?
A child support order takes effect the day of the filing. The parent should make the direct payment to the State Collection and Disbursement Unit in Pennsylvania. Both parties and their attorneys will receive a copy of the support order.
The distribution of payment from the noncustodial parent should be collected in the following order:
- Monthly current child support
- Medical, child care, other child support expenses
- Child support arrears
- Current spousal support
- Court costs and fees
What is the Federal User fee?
The U.S. Congress requires an annual fee of $25 for each year an open child support case receives at least $500.
What happens if a spouse does not comply with support order rules?
If a spouse fails to comply, a court may withhold or seize lump sum or periodic payments of income, including any benefits. According to Chapters 1910.21-25, the court may impose liens on property, seize assets of the paying parent, or hold the parent in contempt. Should the paying parent owe support for more than three months, the spouse’s license (driver, recreational, or occupational) may be suspended.