Guide to Child Support in Pennsylvania
- Child support and divorce in Pennsylvania
- Informal child support agreements vs. guideline child support
- How guideline support is calculated in Pennsylvania
- How to start a formal child support application in Pennsylvania
- How to make and receive formal child support payments
- How does Pennsylvania enforce formal child support orders?
- Can formal child support in Pennsylvania be modified?
- Quick facts to know about child support in Pennsylvania
There are two types of child support arrangements in Pennsylvania: informally established support that the parents agree upon between themselves, and guideline support that is ordered by the court in a formal hearing. If you anticipate paying or receiving child support in the state, it’s helpful to know about both types.
Child support and divorce in Pennsylvania
Unlike most states, Pennsylvania does not include a formal child support procedure within the divorce process. Instead, child support – when established formally and legally – is done through a child support hearing regardless of marital status.
At the hearing, an order is made based on Pennsylvania state guidelines for child support. A parent can request a guideline child support hearing before, during, or after divorce in Pennsylvania.
Divorce does not automatically trigger a child support obligation for one parent in Pennsylvania, but a child support hearing often does trigger a child support obligation.
Informal child support agreements vs. guideline child support
Informal child support agreements
Pennsylvania parents are free to make informal child support agreements with each other without intervention from the state. There is no hearing for this type of child support agreement, nor is there a calculator parents must use to arrive at a final number. Parents can negotiate with each other on their own, coming to an agreement that they may or may not write down on paper.
In fact, many divorcing couples do include their informal child support agreement terms in their marital settlement agreement. Importantly, however, this agreement is not court-enforceable on its own. To make it enforceable, the couple would have to also go through a separate process of applying for guideline child support through the state.
Guideline child support
A more formal approach to child support in Pennsylvania is to schedule a child support hearing. At any time before, during, or after a separation or divorce, a parent may file a petition for a child support hearing where a judge may declare a child support order. Pennsylvania’s formal child support guidelines are codified in Rule 1910.16 from the state’s Rules of Civil Procedure.
Unlike the informal child support agreement explored above, a formal order for guideline child support in Pennsylvania is legally binding. The court calculates an exact amount to be paid using Pennsylvania’s child support guideline formula, which was created by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court under the advisement of an economist.
How guideline child support is calculated in Pennsylvania
The amount of formal child support one parent pays another is determined largely by the aforementioned guideline formula, though parents can voice their wishes at their child support hearing, and the court will consider them. Even so, the judge presiding over the hearing has discretion over the final amount.
In addition to parental input, criteria a judge may look at when determining child support include factors such as each parent’s net monthly income, the amount of time each parent spends with the child or children in question, and how many children are involved.
View page 9 of the official guidelines booklet to see some numbers in action.
If you file for formal support, there will be a hearing where the guideline amount will be calculated for you. You could agree with your ex to another amount, but the judge would also have to agree to that amount.
How to start a formal child support application in Pennsylvania
There are several ways to initiate a formal child support application and hearing. You could visit your local DRS (Domestic Relations Section) office to pick up an application. Or, you can find the application online by visiting this Pennsylvania DSS webpage. (To zero in on the application, click on the words “Request Support Services.”)
If you purchase a Hello Divorce online divorce plan, you can also initiate your application during Step 2 of our process.
Note that you will need pertinent information about both of the child’s parents as you complete the application: names, Social Security numbers, addresses, places of work, income, assets, expenses, and more.
A support conference is scheduled
Once you apply, the DRS will schedule a support conference for you and the other parent to attend. At this conference, they will listen to your input regarding child support, so it’s important to come as prepared as possible. Bring all pertinent documents and information to the conference regarding your income and expenses and the child’s financial needs.
The court establishes an amount and other details
The court will make important decisions about child support for your case using Pennsylvania's child support guidelines as well as any additional input you give them. They will decide:
- A monthly amount to be paid to the custodial parent
- Any other expenses the payor shall contribute to (such as medical care)
To understand what the court might recommend, you can consult the state’s Child Support Estimator. Note that this online tool does not provide an official or final answer to anyone about their formal child support amount. It exists to provide you with an idea of what to expect.
How to make and receive formal child support payments
Child support payors
Most formal child support payors in Pennsylvania have funds withheld from their paychecks by their employer. The employer receives a court order instructing them how much to withhold and where to send the money. (Note that other forms of cash, such as unemployment compensation or pension benefits, may also be directed toward the child support recipient, as needed.)
Formal support can also be paid directly via cash, check, money order, MoneyGram, or credit card. For options and payment addresses, see page 18 of Pennsylvania’s Child Support Handbook. Or, visit this page on the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services website to learn about payment options, associated fees, and processing times.
Block: If you pay formal child support in Pennsylvania and you move or change jobs, you are required to notify DRS in writing or in person within seven days of this change. Or, you can submit information about the change online at www.childsupport.state.pa.us.
Child support recipients
As a formal child support recipient, you will receive payments through direct deposit onto a card (the Way2Go Card) or through direct deposit into your personal bank account. If you use the Way2Go card, note that it works much like a MasterCard. You can use this card to buy items or withdraw cash.
Pennsylvania offers a wealth of formal child support-related services at your fingertips. Visit the PA Child Support Program website to make a payment online, change your direct deposit information, request child support services, learn the answers to frequently asked questions, and a lot more.
How does Pennsylvania enforce formal child support orders?
If formal child support payments are not made as they have been ordered, the DRS has the power to get the money through other means. For example, they may have the payor’s wages or tax refund money withheld. They may contact the payor’s bank for asset surrender or have a lien placed on their property. They may also have the power to force the payor to start working at a job that helps them afford the payments.
Punitive measures for not paying child support in Pennsylvania include revocation of the payor’s driver’s license, penalties against the payor’s credit score, and publication of the payor’s name in a newspaper.
It is against the law in Pennsylvania to get more than $5,000 behind on child support payments for over a year for a child in another state. Fines could be assessed, and imprisonment could last for up to two years.
What if I’m facing hardship?
If you owe formal child support in Pennsylvania but cannot pay it, you may be able to help yourself by being honest with the DRS. Contact them, and explain your situation. They may be able to help you get your payments modified. (Read more about child support modification below.)
The state cannot enforce an informal child support order
Remember that the state cannot enforce an informal child support arrangement in Pennsylvania – even if it is documented in your marital settlement agreement. The only way to get legal backup for unpaid child support is to have a formal child support agreement.
Can formal child support in Pennsylvania be modified?
Child support payments can be modified to be higher or lower than originally ordered. This may be necessary due to job or income changes, fluctuating children’s expenses, and other life events. On average, families modify support three times after divorce because of job or income changes.
If you’re interested in a formal child support modification, here are the steps to take:
- Petition the court for a child support review and modification by filling out a Petition for Modification. This can be submitted in person or e-filed.
- Provide the court with evidence of your change in circumstance. This could be a change in income for either parent, a change in health status that impacts medical bills, the incarceration of one parent, or the child “aging out” of child support. There are other acceptable circumstances as well.
- Wait for an approval or denial of your request for modification. If your request is denied, you must continue with the status quo for now.
Quick facts to know about formal child support in Pennsylvania
- There is no filing fee to apply for formal child support. However, there is a $35 annual fee to receive formal child support. This fee may be waived under circumstances of need or if the recipient receives less than $2,000 per year in child support.
- Formal medical support differs from formal child support. A parent who receives formal child support payments may also receive medical support payments for their child. Or, they may be ordered to share the child’s medical costs with the noncustodial parent. It is at the court’s discretion.
- Paternity must be proven if a father is to pay formal child support. There are several ways to prove paternity: both parents are married at the time of the birth; both parents sign an acknowledgment of paternity (AOP) form; or a court order names the legal father of the child. Note that the court is allowed to mandate genetic testing, if necessary.
- Many of the forms you might need in a Pennsylvania formal child support case can be found online at this website.
Pennsylvania provides state health insurance through CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) to kids who do not have health coverage from their parents. Visit ChipCoversPAKids.com to learn more.
FAQ about child support in Pennsylvania
Who can answer my questions about PA child support?
If you have questions about formal child support in Pennsylvania, you can contact the Domestic Relations Sections (DRS) to speak with a DRS worker. The people here can also help you start a child support application.
For questions about the actual money involved in formal child support transactions (paid or received), you can call the Pennsylvania State Collection and Disbursement Unit at 1-877-727- SCDU (7238). There is also a child support helpline for parents in Pennsylvania, reachable at 1-800-932-0211.
And, if you work with Hello Divorce, you can speak with a Pennsylvania attorney on our staff. Our attorneys provide hourly legal advice sessions for a flat rate, which you can learn more about here.
What if I can’t find my child’s other parent?
Notify the DRS. They will help you locate them. You will need to provide them with your spouse’s Social Security number, date of birth, and any other information you think would be helpful. After the spouse is located, a formal hearing will be scheduled, and paternity will be established if it needs to be.
A note about paternity: If the parents are in a heterosexual marriage at the time of a child’s birth, paternity is assumed. If they are unmarried, the parents can both sign an acknowledgment of paternity (AOP) form if they agree to it. If not, the court may order testing. If the parents are in a same-sex marriage, the DRS still has the authority to help establish who has a legal obligation to care for the child.
If you need to speak in person with someone about paternity questions, dial 1-800-932-0211 and select option number two.
Can my spouse and I create our own child support agreement in Pennsylvania?
Yes. If you wish to avoid a formal hearing, you and your co-parent can create an informal support agreement between yourselves. You can include this agreement in your final divorce papers as well.
As we’ve mentioned, an informal child support agreement is not enforceable the way a formal child support agreement is.
Will remarriage affect my formal Pennsylvania child support arrangement?
Not usually. A payor’s new spouse is not obligated in any way to support the child, so their income cannot be considered a contribution in any way. However, if marrying someone new bolsters or lessens a payor’s available income, that may be considered in a modification case.
Similarly, if you were to marry someone who has a formal child support debt, your separate property would not be targeted to pay that debt. However, any community property that you share may become vulnerable to debt collection.
If you have questions about how Hello Divorce can help you with your divorce process, child support negotiations, or any other aspect of your Pennsylvania divorce, we invite you to schedule a free 15-minute call with an account coordinator. Our coordinators are friendly, knowledgeable, and readily available to help make this process easier for you and your family.
ReferencesChild Support Estimator. Pennsylvania Department of Human Services.
Basic Child Support Schedule. Pennsylvania Code.
Pennsylvania Child Support Handbook. PA Child Support Program.
Pennsylvania Child Support Website. PA Child Support Program.
Support Payment Options. Pennsylvania Department of Human Services.