In January of this year the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued updates to the Pennsylvania Support Rules and Guidelines.  The guidelines are what our courts use to determine the amount of child support a parent must pay to the other parent or the amount of spousal support one spouse must pay to the other.  The guidelines are required to be updated every four years.  Usually there are only very minor changes.  This year, however, there are some significant changes which will have a profound effect on the calculation of child or spousal support in certain cases.

For residents of Bucks County, as well as the rest of the state of Pennsylvania, The most significant change is in the application of the support guidelines to cases where the net household income is in excess of $20,000 per month.  Currently the child support guidelines end when the combined net monthly income for the parties reaches $20,000.  Above $20,000 net per month the parties are considered “off guidelines” and a much more complicated analysis would be performed to determine child support.  The new guidelines now increase that threshold to $30,000 per month.  This increase should provide some much needed uniformity in calculating support for parties who fall into this high income category.  The new guidelines also chang the manner in which the court would determine a support obligation for parties with net income in excess of $30,000 per year.  The change should result in a much more consistent and uniform child support awards in high income cases throughout the state.

The Supreme Court has also added language in the new guidelines to allow the trial court to consider the duration of the marriage when determining the duration of spousal support or alimony pendente lite (APL).  This change was specifically implemented to prevent the unfairness that arises in a short-term marriage when the obligors are 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. 

An additional change to the child support guidelines is the court’s presumption that the non-custodial parent (the parent paying the support) is spending at least 30% of the time with the child(ren).  As such the non-custodial parent should also be making contributions for things such as food and entertainment.  These payments are built into the new schedule.  Under the new guidelines a deviation upward may be had where the non-custodial (paying) parent has substantial less than 30% time with the child.  Conversely, a deviation downward may be had if the non-custodial parent has substantially more than 30% time with the child. 

Lastly, under the current guidelines a spouse could be awarded an additional amount to assist in paying the mortgage on a marital residence.  This amount could be ordered to continue being paid even after the parties obtain a divorce.  The new guidelines now limit this “Mortgage Deviation Credit” and direct it cannot be applied after final resolution of the economic claims between the parties to a divorce. 

The new guidelines go into effect May 12, 2010.  Enactment of the new guidelines, in and of themselves, are not a grounds to change a current support order.  If, however, a substantial difference exists in a support award calculated under the old and the new guidelines it is possible a court would grant such a modification.  Parties who suspect their support award may be altered by the new guidelines should consult with a family law attorney to determine if it is worth their while to file for modification.