There appears to be a common understanding among participants in custody litigation that the parent having primary custody—that is, the majority of overnights with a child—will be eligible to pursue child support on behalf of the child. That understanding is generally correct. Many of those same participants believe that the eligibility of the primary custodial parent to pursue child support ends if the parties equally share physical custody of their child. That understanding is not always correct. Here is what you should know:
In the case of one parent having primary custody of a child, the child support guidelines in Pennsylvania have been established to consider that the child spends 30% of overnights annually with the partial custodial parent. In other words, the guidelines assume that the partial custodial parent has expenditures for the child while the child is in his/her custody, and the guideline amounts have been adjusted to consider those expenditures. This is true even if the child spends less than 30% of the overnights—or no overnights—with the partial custodial parent.
If the number of overnights with the partial custodial parent reaches 40% during the year, a presumption arises that the partial custodial parent is entitled to a reduction in child support. In general terms, the reduction will be 10% of the support amount, with that reduction “increasing incrementally to a 20% reduction at 50% parenting time.” See Pa.R.C.P. 1910.16-1.
In a situation in which parents equally share physical custody (i.e., 50/50) of a child, it is important to know that the guidelines may permit the entry of a support obligation depending on the income of the parties and the child-related expenses paid by either party. For example, a support obligation may be entered against the parent with higher income by applying a 20% reduction as discussed above, with care taken to ensure the support obligation does not result in the parent receiving support having a larger share of the combined income. Further, a support obligation may be entered against a parent with similar income or lower income level to cover child care costs, health insurance premiums, private school tuition, and unreimbursed medical expenses.
The formula for calculating child support can be found in Pa.R.C.P. 1910-16-4, but often times the support guidelines can be complex and nuanced. If you have questions regarding child support matters, please contact us at 717.299.7342 to meet with one of our Family Law Attorneys.
~Jeffrey C. Murse, Esquire