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General Support Guidelines Under the Pennsylvania Code
Rule 1910.16-1. Amount of Support. Support Guidelines.
(a) Applicability of the Support Guidelines.
(1) Except as set forth in subdivision (2) below, the support guidelines set forth the amount of support which a spouse or parent should pay on the basis of both parties’ net monthly incomes as defined in Rule 1910.16-2 and the number of persons being supported.
(2) In actions in which the plaintiff is a public body or private agency pursuant to Rule 1910.3, the amount of the order shall be calculated under the guidelines based upon each obligor’s net monthly income as defined in Rule 1910.16-2, with the public or private entity’s income as zero. In such cases, each parent shall be treated as a separate obligor and a parent’s obligation will be based upon his or her own monthly net income without regard to the income of the other parent.
(i) The amount of basic child support owed to other children not in placement shall be deducted from each parent’s net income before calculating support for the child or children in placement, including the amount of direct support the guidelines assume will be provided by the custodial parent.
Example 1. Mother and Father have three children and do not live in the same household. Mother has primary custody of two children and net income of $2,000 per month. Father’s net monthly income is $3,000. The parties’ third child is in foster care placement. Pursuant to the schedule at Rule 1910.16-3, the basic child support amount for the two children with Mother is $1,369. As Father’s income is 60% of the parties’ combined monthly net income, his basic support obligation to Mother is $821 per month. The guidelines assume that Mother will provide $548 per month in direct expenditures to the two children in her home. The agency/obligee brings an action against each parent for the support of the child in placement. Father/obligor’s income will be $2,179 for purposes of this calculation ($3,000 net less $821 in support for the children with Mother). Because the agency/obligee’s income is zero, Father’s support for the child in placement will be 100% of the schedule amount of basic support for one child at the $2,179 income level, or $520 per month. Mother/obligor’s income will be $1,452 for purposes of this calculation ($2,000 net less $548 in direct support to the children in her custody). Her support obligation will be 100% of the schedule amount for one child at that income level, or $348 per month.
Example 2. Mother and Father have two children in placement. Father owes child support of $500 per month for two children of a former marriage. At the same income levels as above, Father’s income for determining his obligation to the children in placement would be $2,500 ($3,000 less $500 support for two children of prior marriage). His obligation to the agency would be $848 per month (100% of the schedule amount for two children at the $2,500 per month income level). Mother’s income would not be diminished as she owes no other child support. She would owe $685 for the children in placement (100% of the schedule amount for two children at the $2,000 income level).
(ii) If the parents reside in the same household, their respective obligations to the children who remain in the household and are not in placement shall be calculated according to the guidelines, with the parent having the higher income as the obligor, and that amount shall be deducted from the parents’ net monthly incomes for purposes of calculating support for the child(ren) in placement.
Example 3. Mother and Father have four children, two of whom are in placement. Mother’s net monthly income is $4,000 and Father’s is $3,000. The basic support amount for the two children in the home is $1,628, according to the schedule at Rule 1910.16-3. As Mother’s income is 57% of the parties’ combined net monthly incomes, her share would be $928, and Father’s 43% share would be $700. Mother’s income for purposes of calculating support for the two children in placement would be $3,072 ($4,000 less $928). She would pay 100% of the basic child support at that income level, or $1,032, for the children in placement. Father’s income would be $2,300 ($3,000 less $700) and his obligation to the children in placement would be $782.
(iii) In the event that the combined amount the parents are required to pay exceeds the cost of placement, the trier of fact shall deviate to reduce each parent’s obligation in proportion to his or her share of the combined obligation.
(3) The support of a spouse or child is a priority obligation so that a party is expected to meet this obligation by adjusting his or her other expenditures.
(b) Amount of Support. The amount of support (child support, spousal support or alimony pendente lite) to be awarded pursuant to the procedures under Rules 1910.11 and 1910.12 shall be determined in accordance with the support guidelines which consist of the guidelines expressed as the child support schedule set forth in Rule 1910.16-3, the formula set forth in Rule 1910.16-4 and the operation of the guidelines as set forth in these rules.
(c) Spousal Support and Alimony Pendente Lite.
(1) Orders for spousal support and alimony pendente lite shall not be in effect simultaneously.
(2) In determining the duration of an award for spousal support or alimony pendente lite, the trier of fact shall consider the duration of the marriage from the date of marriage to the date of final separation.
(d) Rebuttable Presumption. If it has been determined that there is an obligation to pay support, there shall be a rebuttable presumption that the amount of the award determined from the guidelines is the correct amount of support to be awarded. The support guidelines are a rebuttable presumption and must be applied taking into consideration the special needs and obligations of the parties. The trier of fact must consider the factors set forth in Rule 1910.16-5. The presumption shall be rebutted if the trier of fact makes a written finding, or a specific finding on the record, that an award in the amount determined from the guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate.
(e) Guidelines Review. The guidelines shall be reviewed at least once every four years to insure that application results in the determination of appropriate amounts of support.
Introduction. Pennsylvania law requires that child and spousal support be awarded pursuant to a statewide guideline. 23 Pa.C.S. § 4322(a). That statute further provides that the guideline shall be ‘‘established by general rule by the Supreme Court, so that persons similarly situated shall be treated similarly.’’ Id.
Pursuant to federal law, The Family Support Act of 1988 (P. L. 100-485, 102 Stat. 2343 (1988), all states are required to have statewide child support guidelines. Federal regulations, 45 CFR 302.56, further require that the guidelines be reviewed at least once every four years and that such reviews include an assessment of the most recent economic data on child-rearing costs and a review of data from case files to assure that deviations from the guidelines are limited. The Pennsylvania statute also requires a review of the support guidelines every four years. 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 4322(a).
The Domestic Relations Procedural Rules Committee of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania began the mandated review process in early 2007. The committee was assisted in its work by Jane Venohr, Ph.D., an economist with the Center for Policy Research, under contract between the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare and Policy Studies, Inc. As a result of the review, the committee recommended to the Supreme Court several amendments to the statewide guidelines.
A. Income Shares Model. Pennsylvania’s child support guidelines are based upon the Income Shares Model. That model was developed under the Child Support Guidelines Project funded by the U.S. Office of Child Support Enforcement and administered by the National Center for State Courts. The Guidelines Project Advisory Group recommended the Income Shares Model for state guidelines. At present, 37 states use the Income Shares Model as a basis for their child support guidelines. The Income Shares Model is based upon the concept that the child of separated, divorced or never-married parents should receive the same proportion of parental income that she or he would have received if the parents lived together. A number of authoritative economic studies provide estimates of the average amount of household expenditures for children in intact households. These studies show that the proportion of household spending devoted to children is directly related to the level of household income and to the number of the children. The basic support amounts reflected in the schedule in Rule 1910.16-3 represent average marginal expenditures on children for food, housing, transportation, clothing and other miscellaneous items that are needed by children and provided by their parents, including the first $250 of unreimbursed medical expenses incurred annually per child.
1. Economic Measures. The support schedule in Rule 1910.16-3 is based upon child-rearing expenditures measured by David M. Betson, Ph.D., Professor of Economics, University of Notre Dame. Dr. Betson’s measurements were developed for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for the explicit purpose of assisting states with the development and revision of child support guidelines. Dr. Betson’s research also was used in developing the prior schedule, effective in January 2006. Dr. Betson updates his estimates using data from the Consumer Expenditure Survey conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In the current schedule, those figures were converted to 2008 price levels using the Consumer Price Index.
2. Source of Data. The estimates used to develop the schedule are based upon national data. The specific sources of the data are the periodic Consumer Expenditure Surveys. Those national surveys are used because they are the most detailed available source of data on household expenditures. The depth and quality of this information is simply not available at the state level and would be prohibitively costly to gather. The U. S. Department of Agriculture’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (‘‘CNPP’’) also develops economic estimates for the major categories of child-rearing expenditures. Although the committee reviewed these estimates, it is aware of only one state that relies upon the CNPP estimates as a basis for its child support schedule, and even that state makes certain adjustments.
B. Statutory Considerations. The Pennsylvania statute, 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 4322(a), provides:
Child and spousal support shall be awarded pursuant to a Statewide guideline as established by general rule by the Supreme Court, so that persons similarly situated shall be treated similarly. The guideline shall be based upon the reasonable needs of the child or spouse seeking support and the ability of the obligor to provide support. In determining the reasonable needs of the child or spouse seeking support and the ability of the obligor to provide support, the guideline shall place primary emphasis on the net incomes and earning capacities of the parties, with allowable deviations for unusual needs, extraordinary expenses and other factors, such as the parties’ assets, as warrant special attention. The guideline so developed shall be reviewed at least once every four years.
1. Reasonable Needs and Reasonable Ability to Provide Support. The guidelines make financial support of a child a primary obligation and assume that parties with similar net incomes will have similar reasonable and necessary expenses. After the basic needs of the parents have been met, the child’s needs shall receive priority. The guidelines assume that if the obligor’s net income is at the poverty level, he or she is barely able to provide for his or her own basic needs. In those cases, therefore, the entry of a minimal order may be appropriate after considering the party’s living expenses. In some cases, it may not be appropriate to enter a support order at all. In most cases, however, a party’s living expenses are not relevant in determining his or her support obligation. Rather, as the statute requires, the obligation is based upon the reasonable needs of a dependent spouse or child and the reasonable ability of the obligor to pay.
2. Net Income. The guidelines use the net incomes of the parties. Each parent is required to contribute a share of the child’s reasonable needs in proportion to that parent’s share of the combined net income. The custodial parent makes these contributions through direct expenditures for food, shelter, clothing, transportation and other reasonable needs. The non-custodial parent makes contributions through periodic support payments to the custodial parent. Rule 1910.16-2(d) has been amended to clarify the provisions relating to income and earning capacity.
3. Allowable Deviations. The guidelines are designed to treat similarly situated parents, spouses and children in the same manner. However, when there are unavoidable differences, deviations must be made from the guidelines. Failure to deviate from these guidelines by considering a party’s actual expenditures where there are special needs and special circumstances constitutes a misapplication of the guidelines.
C. Child Support Schedule. The child support schedule in Rule 1910.16-3 has been amended to reflect updated economic data, as required by federal and state law, to ensure that children continue to receive adequate levels of support. The support amounts in the schedule have been expanded to apply to a combined net monthly income of $30,000 and remain statistically valid. The economic data support the revised schedule.
D. Self-Support Reserve (‘‘SSR’’). The amended schedule also incorporates an increase in the ‘‘Self-Support Reserve’’ or ‘‘SSR’’ from $748 per month to $867 per month, the 2008 federal poverty level for one person. Formerly designated as the ‘‘Computed Allowance Minimum’’ or ‘‘CAM,’’ the Self-Support Reserve, as it is termed in most other states’ guidelines, is intended to assure that low-income obligors retain sufficient income to meet their own basic needs, as well as to maintain the incentive to continue employment. The SSR is built into the schedule in Rule 1910.16-3 and adjusts the basic support obligation to prevent the obligor’s net income from falling below $867 per month. Because the schedule in Rule 1910.16-3 applies to child support only, Rule 1910.16-2(e)(1)(B) provides for a similar adjustment in spousal support and alimony pendente lite cases to assure that the obligor retains a minimum of $867 per month.
E. Shared Custody. In creating the new schedule, the amounts of basic child support were first increased to reflect updated economic data, including 2008 price levels. Next, the amounts of basic child support were adjusted to incorporate into the schedule the assumption that the children spend 30% of the time with the obligor and that the obligor makes direct expenditures on their behalf during that time. That does not mean that the entire schedule was reduced by 30%. Only those variable expenditures, such as food and entertainment, that fluctuate based upon parenting time were adjusted. The calculation in Rule 1910.16-4(c) reduces an obligor’s support obligation further if the obligor spends significantly more time with the children. The revised schedule assumes that the obligor has 30% parenting time. The obligor will receive an additional 10% reduction in the amount of support owed at 40% parenting time, increasing incrementally to a 20% reduction at 50% parenting time. This method may still result in a support obligation even if custody of the children is equally shared. In those cases, the rule provides for a maximum obligation which may reduce the obligation so that the obligee does not receive a larger portion of the parties’ combined income than the obligor.
F. Child Care Expenses. Rule 1910.16-6(a) was amended in 2006 to provide that child care expenses incurred by both parties shall be apportioned between the parties in recognition of the fact that a non-custodial parent also may incur such expenses during his or her custodial periods with the children.
G. Spousal Support and Alimony Pendente Lite. Subdivision (c) has been amended to require the court to consider the duration of the marriage in determining the duration of a spousal support or alimony pendente lite award. The language was moved from Rule 1910.16-5 which deals with deviation. The primary purpose of this provision is to prevent the unfairness that arises in a short-term marriage when the obligor is required to pay support over a substantially longer period of time than the parties were married and there is little or no opportunity for credit for these payments at the time of equitable distribution.
H. Other Amendments. All of the examples in the guidelines have been updated to reflect the changes to the basic child support schedule. Prior explanatory comments have been deleted or revised and incorporated into new comments.
The schedule of basic child support has been updated to reflect newer economic data. The schedule was prepared by Jane Venohr, Ph.D., the economist who assisted in the last guideline review using the same methodology. It includes an increase in the Self-Support Reserve to $931 per month, the 2012 federal poverty level for one person.
The provisions of this Rule 1910.16-1 adopted September 6, 1989, effective September 30, 1989, 19 Pa.B. 4151; amended January 27, 1993, effective immediately, 23 Pa.B. 701; amended December 7, 1998, effective April 1, 1999, 28 Pa.B. 6162; amended October 27, 2000; effective immediately, 30 Pa.B. 5837; amended August 20, 2003, effective immediately, 33 Pa.B. 4435; amended September 27, 2005, effective 4 months from date of this order, 35 Pa.B. 5643; amended January 12, 2010, effective May 12, 2010, 40 Pa.B. 586; amended April 9, 2013, effective August 9, 2013, 43 Pa.B. 2272. Immediately preceding text appears at serial pages (360276) to (360278), (347827) to (347828) and (364535) to (364536).
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