In Pennsylvania, if you have a child with someone else and you do not live together with that person, either of you may file a complaint for child support. Each county may have its own particular procedures and timelines, but the amount of support is determined by a set of guidelines (i.e., “the Guidelines”) which are revised every four (4) years to include cost of living increases.
You must go to the local county Domestic Relations Office (ORO) to file your support complaint. The court personnel will require names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, addresses and employment information for all parties. You can do this on your own, or you can request your attorney to do it. Once the complaint is filed, you will receive notification in the mail with a date and place for your support conference. You may be required to bring the last six (6) months of paystubs, your W-2 forms, or your most recent verified tax return. If you are self employed, things get a bit more complicated, and you may have to bring the last three (3) years of verified tax returns with all the attached Schedules.
The point of the conference is to help the parties reach an agreement on how much child support is to be paid. The amount paid will be dependent on numerous factors, including current salaries, bonuses, overtime, additional part time jobs, income received from other sources (rent, etc.). Support is also based on the number of children and the amount oftime (specifically overnights) that each parent spends with the child. When the amount of overnights approaches 40% (3 out of 7 overnights), the party paying support may be eligible for a decrease in the amount of support paid. This can lead to conflicts when one parent decides to ask for more custody time so that he or she can decrease the amount of support paid.
If you and your child’s co-parent reach an agreement before your scheduled conference date, you can ask your attorney to prepare a written agreement and file it with the court. This would mean that you wouldn’t have to go to your support conference (please confirm with your attorney). If you do not have an attorney, you will have to contact your local county ORO to ask about procedures and putting an agreement on the record.
The above process is what happens when someone files a complaint for child support and uses the court system in Pennsylvania known as PACSES. You can also pay and receive support outside of the court system through a private arrangement. If you have a private arrangement you should put it in writing. You can make it as part of your Property Settlement Agreement when you get divorced, and include a paragraph which says that if the obliger (person who must pay support) doesn’t pay as agreed, the obligee (person receiving support) can immediately file a support complaint. I usually recommend that people use PACSES; it’s more streamlined and if the other party stops paying support, enforcement procedures can begin. Remember, if it’s not in writing it doesn’t exist!