Child support is frequently litigated by parents throughout Pennsylvania. In almost all divorce cases, a number is either agreed upon or ordered by the court.  Whatever the number, the payor believes it to be too high and the payee believes it to be too low.

So how did the court get this number and who are they to say it’s the right number?

The number is, with few exceptions, chosen based upon child support guidelines.  Bucks County, and all of Pennsylvania, require child support be awarded pursuant to these statewide guidelines.  The guidelines were created to insure that persons similarly situated (i.e. persons with the same earnings and number of children) are treated similarly. 

The guidelines are based upon the “Income Shares Model.”  The Income Shares model (used by Pennsylvania and 32 other states) is premised on the concept that a 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/remained together.  In other words, separated parents should spend the same amount on their children as non-separated parents.  The children’s lifestyles should not be compromised due to the parents failure to maintain a relationship.       

But how much do non-separated parents typically spend on their kids?

Numerous economic studies have been performed to determine the average amount spent on children in intact households.  The studies reveal that the proportion of household spending devoted to children is directly related to the level of household income and the number of children.  The child support schedule used in Bucks County represents the average expenditures on children for food, housing, transportation, clothing and other necessities typically provided by the parents.  The estimates used in the schedule to determine household expenditures is based on detailed national data and surveys.  The guidelines break up the total net monthly income of the parents into $50.00 increments (or income levels) and determine the average spent per income level for the number of children of the parents.  Each parent is then responsible for their proportional share of the guideline amount.  The party having partial physical custody would pay that amount as child support to the parent having primary physical custody.

For example:

Mom’s net monthly income is $6,000.  Dad’s net monthly income is $3,000.  The combined net monthly income of the parties is therefore $9,000.  Per the guidelines, at $9,000 the monthly basic child support obligation is $1,311 for one child, $1,741 for two children and $1,925 for three children.  Mom’s proportional share is 67% (6,000 divided by 9,000).  Dad’s proportional share is 33% (3,000 divided by 9,000).  If dad has primary custody of the children mom would pay $878 per month in child support to dad for one child (67% of $1,311); $1,166 per month in child support for two children (67% of $1,741) and $1,290 per month in child support for three children (67% of $1,925).