Bucks County courts, and all courts in Pennsylvania, are required to use child support guidelines in determining a parent’s child support obligation.
Bucks County, pursuant to Pennsylvania law, applies the guidelines based upon the following:
First, the support obligation itself is based upon the reasonable needs of a dependent child and the reasonable ability of an obligor to pay. The guidelines assume that parents with similar net incomes will have similar reasonable and necessary expenses such as mortgage, dwelling maintenance, insurance and automobile expenses. After the basic needs of the parents have been met, the child’s needs shall receive priority.
The guidelines incorporate basic expenses which are necessary for the support of the child and which are part of the necessary cost of maintaining a household and providing a sufficiently safe home and transportation for the child. Therefore, in most cases, a party’s reasonable living expenses are not relevant in determining his or her support obligation since the guidelines have already taken those into consideration. For example, in setting the amount of child support it should be of no concern to the court that a parent chooses to live in a one-room apartment and rely solely on public transportation while another parent earning the same salary chooses to live in a five bedroom apartment and drive a new car. Both are obligated to give priority to the needs of their children. What they choose to do with their remaining income is not relevant to a support claim. However, the guidelines do assume that if an obligor’s net income is at poverty level than he or she is barely able to take care of his or her own basic needs and a minimal order may be appropriate. In the most extreme cases it may not even be appropriate to order support at all.
Second, the guidelines assume a child’s reasonable needs increase as the combined net income of the child’s parents increases. Each parent is required to contribute a share of the child’s reasonable needs proportional to that parent’s share of the combined net incomes. The custodial parent makes these contributions entirely through direct expenditures for food, shelter, clothing, transportation and other reasonable needs. In addition to any direct expenditures on the child’s behalf, the non-custodial parent makes contributions through periodic support payments. Net income is defined by statute as gross income minus taxes and any other deductions mandated by the employer as a condition of employment. As a party’s net income increases, so do their expenditures and consequently the child’s reasonable needs increase. No adjustment will be considered for normal fluctuations in earnings. However, there may be occasion where an appropriate adjustment will be made for substantial continuing involuntary decreases in income due to illness, layoff, termination, or job elimination over which the party has no control.
Third, there are allowable deviations. The guidelines are designed to treat similarly situated parents, spouses and children in the same manner. When there are unavoidable differences, deviations must be made from the guidelines. Special needs and special circumstances require consideration of a party’s actual expenditures. Failure to recognize such a situation is a misapplication of the guidelines. An example would be the special needs of a disabled child.