The Pennsylvania child support guidelines presume that a non-custodial parent will have custody of the children for 30 percent of the overnights in a calendar year. This 30 percent presumption is built into the child support formula and applies even if the non-custodial parent has the children for less than 30 percent of the overnights. In fact, even a non-custodial parent who has been denied visitation to the children is required to pay child support, as calculated pursuant to the PA child support guidelines. In this respect, child custody and the obligation to pay child support are not linked. A parent is obligated to pay child support whether or not he or she is allowed to see the child, and a parent who denies the non-custodial parent access to the children for failing to pay child support may be found in contempt.
What if the non-custodial parent has custody of the children in excess of 30 percent of the overnights in a calendar year?
Where the non-custodial parent has custody of the children in excess of 30 percent of the overnights in a calendar year, the non-custodial parent may be entitled to a reduction in the amount of child support she or he is obligated to pay. The Pennsylvania child support guidelines provide that "[w]hen the children spend 40% or more of their time during the year with the [parent who pays child support], a rebuttable presumption arises that [she or he] is entitled to a reduction in the basic support obligation to reflect this time." Pa. R.C.P. No. 1910-16.4(c)(1). The reduction is equal to the percentage of actual overnights that are in excess of 30 percent.
For example, assume Parent A and Parent B have two children. Parent B has primary custody and has a monthly net income of $2,300. Parent A has custody the children 30 percent of the time and has a monthly net income of $5,000. Under the Pennsylvania child support guidelines, the total monthly basic support obligation for the couple's two children is $1,663, with non-custodial Parent A obligated to pay 68 percent ($1,131) of that amount in child support.
However, if Parent A has the children for 40 percent of the overnights, the guidelines create a rebuttable presumption that she or he is entitled to a reduction in the basic support obligation to reflect this time. Because the basic support obligation is based on the non-custodial parent having 30 percent of the overnights, Parent A is entitled to a 10 percent (40 percent minus 30 percent) reduction in child support. Thus, instead of paying 68 percent ($1,131) of the basic support obligation in child support, Parent A will pay 58 percent (68 percent minus 10 percent) or $965 in child support to Parent B.
Is the obligation to pay child support eliminated when custody is split 50/50?
No. The obligation to pay child support is not eliminated when the parents share custody equally, or "50/50." As in the example above, Parent A's basic child support obligation reduction is equal to the percent of actual overnights in excess of 30 percent: 68 percent (basic support obligation) minus 20 percent (percent of overnights in excess of 30 percent) equals 48 percent or $798. Child support is not eliminated in this scenario because under Pennsylvania law, children are entitled to the same lifestyle in both parents' households, and the higher-earning parent is still obligated to pay child support to that end.
If you have questions about the PA child support guidelines, schedule a consultation with our experienced Pennsylvania family law attorneys for straightforward answers and guidance.