By Elizabeth Billies
Are you paying or receiving child support? If so, major changes may be headed to your Support Order for 2022 and beyond. Every four years, the Pennsylvania legislature assesses the child support guidelines and updates them for cost of living and other procedural changes.
On January 1, 2022, Pennsylvania enacted new child support guidelines. Those new guidelines are effective January 1, 2022, and will remain in force for the foreseeable future.
In this article, I will discuss the following: (1) What are the Pennsylvania child support guidelines?; (2) What changes have been made to the Pennsylvania child support guidelines for 2022?; (3) How these changes may affect your child support order?; and (4) What, if anything, do you need to do next?
What are the Pennsylvania Child Support Guidelines?
The Pennsylvania Child Support Guidelines are, in summary, a mathematical formula created by the Pennsylvania Domestic Relations Rule Committee and proposed and enacted by the Pennsylvania legislature to determine each parent’s obligation for child support in the event of a divorce or separation.
In addition to determining one parent’s base child support obligation to another, the child support guidelines also address the allocation of such expenses like private school tuition, childcare, health insurance premiums, and unreimbursed medical expenses. As stated above, these guidelines are reviewed every four years to make sure that the amounts owed are commensurate with the present cost of living in Pennsylvania for intact families.
How much a parent may owe or receive in child support is based on both parents’ respective net incomes and how many children they have. In addition, who receives support and who pays support is determined by their child custody arrangement.
For example, the person who has custody of the children the majority of the time (called “primary physical custody”) will receive support from the parent who has custody only part of the time (“partial physical custody”). While parties are always free to make financial arrangements that are more or less than what the guidelines would provide, the guidelines are what is followed by the Domestic Relations Offices and Pennsylvania courts if there is no such agreement.
What are the Changes to the Pennsylvania Child Support Guidelines for 2022?
While most of the 2022 adjustments to the guidelines result in only minimal increases in the amount of support owed by one parent to another, some parties may see a larger increase depending on their respective income levels.
For example, if you and your co-parent’s combined net monthly income is between $4,000 and $10,000, you may see an increase in your child support obligation/award of anywhere between 10% to 15%. Make more than $30,000 combined? You may see an increase of approximately 25%. That could be a significant addition to your child support obligation, depending on what it is at present.
In addition to changes in the amounts owed, the new guidelines also made modifications to other parts of the Pennsylvania child support rules, which may also affect you. For example, the self-support reserve section was modified entirely. In that modification, the legislature adjusted the methodology used for determining a party’s child support when their income is below $1,063 a month.
The 2022 rules also finally clearly define “shared physical custody” as the obligor (the person paying support) as having 40% or more of overnight custodial time with the children on an annual basis. More than 40% entitles the obligor to a downward adjustment on their base support obligation to the other parent. The purpose for this adjustment is to reflect the actual circumstances that a person who has custody time of 40% or more overnights per year is likely spending more money on their children than someone who has less than 40% of the overnights.
If you are a parent, you know that the more you have your children, the more food they eat and lights they leave on. This modification clearly defines that someone who has that amount of time with their children to get an adjustment to reflect that fact. While a shared custody adjustment was always available for people with equal shared physical custody, the guidelines weren’t as clear as what to do with someone who has somewhere 40% and 50% of the custodial overnights.
How Do These Changes Affect Your Child Support Order?
First and foremost, it may mean that you owe more child support or are entitled to receive more child support. However, how much really depends on where your combined income level with your co-parent falls. In short, the adjustment could be a few dollars or a few hundred dollars. For some, the increase could be a significant change to their budget, for better or for worse.
What do you need to do next?
If you are curious as to whether you are entitled to an adjustment to your child support award or are concerned that your co-parent may ask for an increase in child support because of the changes to the guidelines, it is best to contact a family law attorney to determine what your potential award/obligation could be. You certainly do not want to waste your time, money, and effort filing anything in the court system that is only going to gain you a few dollars.
It is important to note that the guidelines do not automatically adjust your award/obligation. Therefore, if you believe that you are entitled to an adjustment, you will need to file a petition to modify your support order with the appropriate Domestic Relations Office in your county. Upon filing that petition, you will be scheduled for a support conference, where the conference officer will employ the new guidelines to determine your adjusted child support obligation or award.
However, before you file any petition, I recommend that you first calculate the award and see if you can resolve the modification with your co-parent. If you are able to come to an agreement, you can work with your attorney to put forth a support agreement without the need to go to court, again saving you time, money, and aggravation.
In conclusion, if you are a party to a support order, you need to pay attention to these 2022 modifications as it could mean a change in your child support order, for better or for worse.
However, before you rush into the court system to determine what that modification may be, please get in touch with a family law attorney to determine what that modification is and use that income to assess how you would like to move forward.
Do you need help with a child support modification? The family law attorneys at Dischell Bartle Dooley can help you.
Elizabeth J. Billies, Partner
Liz practices all areas of family law, including but not limited to, preparing pre-and post-nuptial agreements, obtaining no-fault and fault divorces, as well as litigating and settling equitable distribution, custody, and support matters.
Her clients value her collaborative and cost-effective approach to legal representation. Liz strives to resolve all matters expeditiously and efficiently while maintaining a high level of compassion and attention to detail.
If you have a divorce or family law question, please contact a member of our team or call 215.362.2474.