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Spotlight Issue: Support

by | Feb 24, 2015 | Uncategorized | 0 comments

There are four different categories of support in Pennsylvania: child support, spousal support (paid before a divorce or while a divorce is pending), alimony pendente lite (APL – paid while a divorce is pending) and alimony.

Child support, spousal support and APL

These types of support are all governed by the same formula and guidelines which are set by statute. The formula used to determine the amount of support is set forth in PA Rule of Civil Procedure 1910.16-4. Support cases in Berks County are generally monitored by the Domestic Relations Office.

The amount of support to be paid is based on the net monthly incomes of the parties and the number of people being supported. Generally, the party who has primary physical custody of the child will be owed support. If the parties share custody, then the party who has the lowest income will generally be owed support. The support guidelines create a rebuttable presumption. This means that the court is to assume that the support obligation determined by the guidelines is correct. However, the court or hearing master can make a finding that the amount established by the guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate based on the special needs and obligations of the parties and deviate from the guidelines. The statute gives the court factors which must be considered when deciding whether it is appropriate to deviate from the support guidelines:

  • – Unusual needs and unusual fixed obligations

  • – Other support obligations of the parties

  • – Other income in the household

  • – Ages of the children

  • – The relative assets and liabilities of the parties

  • – Medical expenses not covered by insurance

  • – Standard of living of the parties and their children

  • – In spousal support and alimony pendente lite cases, the duration of the marriage from the date of marriage to the date of final separation

  • – Other relevant and appropriate factors, including the best interest of the children

A support case begins with the filing of a complaint. In Berks County the case is then scheduled for a support conference in front of a conference officer. Parties are required to bring financial records to that conference. The conference officer will make a recommendation to the parties as to the amount of support to be paid based on the statutory guidelines. If the parties can reach an agreement about the amount of support to be paid, then the conference officer can approve the agreement and forward it to the court. If the parties are not able to reach an agreement at the conference, then the court will enter a temporary order of support based only on the support guidelines. The parties then have 20 days to request a hearing before a hearing master. If no hearing is requested, then the temporary order becomes final. If a hearing is requested then the hearing master will take testimony, review evidence and make a recommendation to the court in a written report. The parties then have 20 days to request a new hearing in front of a judge if they do not agree with the recommendation of the hearing master. Otherwise, the hearing officer’s recommendation will become a final order. If a new hearing is requested, then the court will hear the case and take testimony before making a ruling on the amount of support owed.

Even after a final support order is entered that order can still be modified. The amount of support can be increased or decreased if there has been a material and substantial change in circumstances. This can include, for example, a change in a child’s living arrangements or a change in a party’s income.


Alimony is a support obligation that is entered after a divorce is final. The amount of alimony paid is not determined by the support guidelines. The parties to a divorce can make an agreement on alimony payments or a court can order that a reasonable amount of alimony be paid if it finds that such payment is necessary. In order to determine whether it is necessary and what constitutes a reasonable payment, the court will look to the following factors:

  • – Earnings and earning capacities of the parties

  • – Ages and physical, mental and emotional conditions of the parties

  • – Sources of income of the parties

  • – Expectancies and inheritances of the parties

  • – Duration of the marriage

  • – Contribution by one party to the education, training or increased earning potential of the other party

  • – The extent to which the earning power, expenses or financial obligations of a party will be affected by taking care of a minor child

  • – The standard of living of the parties during marriage

  • – The education level of the parties and the time that it would take a party to obtain sufficient education and training to find appropriate employment

  • – Assets and liabilities of the parties

  • – Property brought to the marriage by either party

  • – Contribution of a spouse as a homemaker

  • – Needs of the parties

  • – Marital misconduct by either of the parties during the marriage

  • – Tax ramifications of the alimony award

  • – Whether the party seeking alimony lacks sufficient property to provide for that party’s needs

  • – Whether the party seeking alimony is incapable of supporting himself/herself through employment

Child support, spousal support, APL and alimony orders can be enforced with wage attachments. A wage attachment for child support does not require a court order. A court order is required for the other types of support. An obligor can be held in contempt by the court for failure to pay on the order which can result in jail time.

Support orders can have a serious impact on both the obligor and obligee. Whether you’ve been served with a support order or need to obtain an order for the support of yourself or your children, our Berks County family law attorneys can help. Contact us at 610-372-5128 or submit your case using the “Ask an attorney” link.



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