Remarriage after divorce is a big step. If you’re in Pennsylvania and are subject to a child support order, will remarriage have an effect on your support obligation? This article will cover some of the issues that divorced parents face when they remarry. If you need advice about your own case, you should contact a local family law attorney for help.
Child support awards in Pennsylvania are governed by statewide guidelines, established by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The support guidelines determine the amount of support a parent should pay, based on the parties’ net monthly incomes and the number of children involved.
For purpose of the guidelines, some of the applicable sources of income are:
In addition to income, some of the other items used in calculating child support are job-related child care expenses and health insurance premiums for the children.
A copy of the guidelines support estimator can be found on the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare website.
If the court determines that a party has willfully failed to obtain or maintain appropriate employment, in calculating support it may attribute or “impute” income to that party equal to the individual’s earning capacity. Some of the factors the court considers include:
There is a rebuttable presumption that the support amount determined by the guidelines is correct. “Rebuttable” means that there may be exceptions to the rule, such as a court finding that using the guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate in a particular case. Pennsylvania law provides factors a judge can look at in deciding whether to deviate from the guidelines, including:
Is a child support order etched in stone? Definitely not. The law allows parents to ask the court to change a support order. However, in order to succeed, the parent asking for the adjustment must prove there has been a material and substantial change of circumstances since the last support order was entered.
In deciding whether to change a child support order, the court will review both parents’ financial documentation and any other relevant evidence. The court then applies the law and determines whether, and how much, to modify the order.
In and of itself, remarriage doesn’t ordinarily qualify as a change of circumstances warranting child support modification. That’s because a new spouse isn’t normally responsible for supporting your children from a prior relationship. However, remarriage can give rise to certain situations that may be relevant to child support.
Does a parent’s new child from a remarriage, either natural or adopted, automatically qualify as a reason to change a support order? No. But a new child can be a consideration. Pennsylvania law is very proactive in dealing with child support, and it directly addresses this issue.
In looking at a parent’s support modification request based on a “new family,” the court will consider the parent’s total child support obligation. (This is the calculated support amount for the children from the prior relationship, as well as the new child.) If the total support figure is 50% or less of the parent's monthly net income, a reduction of the existing support order will not usually be granted. If the total support obligation exceeds 50% of the parent’s monthly net income, that might result in a support reduction.
The law makes it clear that, since the goal of the guidelines is to treat each child fairly, in no event should either a first or later family receive preference.
Why should a new spouse’s income be relevant to your child support situation, if that spouse has no obligation to support your children from a prior relationship? Because, as Pennsylvania case law says, a new spouse’s income may lessen your expenses. And that actually is a very frequent occurrence. For example, if your new spouse pays a portion of the household costs, such as mortgage or rent, utilities and groceries, you are using less of your individual income on those expenses, leaving more of your income available for your children’s support. This is something a court can consider in deciding whether a modification of child support is justified.
The issue of remarriage and child support in Pennsylvania is a complicated one. This article is only meant as an overview of the topic. If you find yourself in this situation, be sure to consult with a qualified family lawyer as to any questions you may have.