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Child Support: Based on Income Not Expenses

I have litigated many child support cases and I have found that many people are under the impression that, somehow, one’s expenses are relevant to the calculation of child support.  I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but for practically every child support case out there, one’s income is the driving factor behind calculating child support, not one’s expenses.

For the most part, a child support obligation is calculated by considering the father’s income and the mother’s income and discerning where those numbers fall onto a pre-determined chart of child support obligations created by Pennsylvania lawmakers.  So, for example, if the combined monthly income of the parents is $5,000, the chart referred to above indicates that, with that sort of parental income, one child is entitled to receive $944 per month in child support.  That $944 is divided between the parents according to the proportion of their incomes.  So, for example, if the father earns $3,000 out of the aforementioned $5,000, he earns 60% of the parental income and would be responsible to pay 60% of the $944 in child support, or $566.40 per month.  Any extraordinary costs for the child regarding, say, tuition, little league, out-of-pocket medical expenses, and other sorts of extraordinary expenses, would be added proportionally between the parents onto the $566.40.  I note the term “extraordinary” above as these expenses, which add to a child support obligation, are not for things like new clothes, food, housing, and regular activities, as those expenses are what child support is designed to cover.

With the above in mind, here is a typical example of the sort of conversations I have regarding one’s expenses and child support: an obligor (the person who owes child support) earns $50,000 per year in income, but has a $600/mo car payment for his BMW which he just bought.  He will come to me and ask me to “run the numbers” to give him an estimate as to what his child support could be were he to go to court on the issue.  I oblige and give him an estimate of his child support obligation and his response is, almost invariably, something like “that’s way too much!  How can I possibly pay for my car with that sort of child support obligation?”

Unfortunately for him, and many others like him, the bills and expenses that one has elected to incur are irrelevant to the child support obligation you must pay.  The law presumes that one will use his disposable income for the benefit of the children one has brought into this world.  Therefore, if one has elected to purchase a very expensive car or house, or the like, and not leave enough money to spare for the support of one’s child, then some choices will have to be made and, unfortunately, some potentially negative economic consequences will be incurred, such as foreclosure or repossession or bankruptcy.  Child support is garnished directly out of one’s earnings in most cases so money will not be left in a paycheck for the $600/mo car payment.

The general advice seems obvious: if one has a child, then one must ensure one has not leveraged his/her income to the point where s/he is unable to afford support for that child.  The law presumes what every parent should: one’s financial priorities are with one’s children, not for one’s elective purchases like expensive cars or houses and such.  Unfortunately, it takes the law to teach many people such a basic lesson in parenting, but hopefully it is ensuring children, who are innocently born and raised, are receiving sufficient support for their needs.

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One thought on “Child Support: Based on Income Not Expenses

  1. Pingback: A Collection of Family Law Writings by James W. Cushing, Esquire | judicialsupport

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