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child support

Liz Billies Authors Book Chapter

Liz Billies Authors Book Chapter

Family law attorney Liz Billies has written a chapter for the Pennsylvania Bar Institute’s upcoming book on “Child and Spousal Support.” Liz’s chapter is on child support adjustments to basic obligations. The book will be available this spring. Liz is an experienced family law attorney with expertise in divorce, pre- and post-nuptial agreements, equitable distribution and custody and support matters.  She has been honored as one of the “10 Best Family Law Attorneys for Client Satisfaction in Pennsylvania” by the American Institute of Family Lawyers for five consecutive years.  

FAQ’S: FILING FOR CHILD SUPPORT

FAQ’S: FILING FOR CHILD SUPPORT

By Elizabeth J. Billies | Esquire

1. How do I begin a support action?

In order to initiate a support action, a party must file a Complaint for Support and an Application for Support Services at the appropriate Domestic Relations Office.  Those forms are generally available on the appropriate Domestic Relations Office’s website.   Parties may file a Support Complaint in person or by mail. Make sure to check the website to see if there is a filing fee.  The other party must be served with the Complaint as well as notice of the support conference date. It is best to serve the other party quickly after filing, as they will begin to receive notices from Domestic Relations whether or not they have been served.

2. What happens at the support conference?  

 In all counties, the support action will first be addressed at a Domestic Relations Support Conference before a Domestic Relations Support Conference Officer.  Conferences are scheduled before the Officers (who are not attorneys) approximately four to six weeks after the filing of the Complaint. At this level, the parties may appear with their attorneys or without counsel. The Conference is relatively informal, with the Support Conference Officer reviewing the documents and data submitted by parties.  Counsel and the Officer may also ask relevant questions regarding the income and expenses of the parties and needs of the children, particularly if one party doesn’t bring the information required. 

3. What do I need to bring to the conference?                        

Both parties should bring the following documents, if applicable. Remember, if you don’t bring verification of an expense it may not be considered! Also be sure to bring at least three copies of all documents, one for you, the other side and the officer to review. 

  • Completed Income Statement form which is provided by Domestic Relations with the conference date notice;
  • Most recent federal income tax return with W2's and 1099's;
  • Six months of pay-stubs;
  • Medical insurance documentation;
  • Verification of child care, tuition, and summer camp expenses;
  • Mortgage, real estate taxes and homeowners’ insurance documentation;  
  • Documentation relating to any social security derivative benefits received on behalf of the children and/or;
  • Any other information relating to any deviations being requested (i.e. multi-family deviations or shared custody adjustments).

4.  What happens after the Officer looks at the documents? 

After reviewing all of the information provided, the Officer will enter the data into the PASCES support calculation software and share his/her verbal recommendation with the parties.  The Officers will also generally show the parties their calculations so that the parties can understand how the recommendation was calculated.  The Conference Officers strongly encourage the parties to reach an agreement.

If the parties agree to accept the recommendation, or some other amount is agreed to, the Officer will prepare a Support Order for the parties to sign and the support proceeding is complete.

5. What if we can’t come to an agreement?

If a final agreement cannot be reached, the Officer will enter a temporary Order and the matter will be scheduled for a hearing before a support master or judge, depending on the county. That hearing is generally scheduled before the parties leave the Conference, so be sure to bring your calendar.  The Conference Officer will also provide payment instructions to the obligor and direct deposit information to the obligee at this time.

Are You Entitled to a Child Support Raise?

Are You Entitled to a Child Support Raise?

By Inna G. Materese | Esquire

Whether you are paying child support or receiving it, a new revision in the Pennsylvania Child Support Guidelines may impact the child support amount in your case.

Child support in Pennsylvania is calculated according to state guidelines. The guidelines are based upon a statistical model that seeks to measure the portion of household income that parents in intact families spend on their children. Our laws then apply these models to divorced, separated and/or otherwise unmarried parents based on the idea that children in separate households should receive approximately the same resources as children in a single, intact-family household. The guidelines are revised every four years to keep up with the realities of our economic circumstances and the cost of living.

The most recent revision, which goes into effect on May 1, 2017,  results in a modest increase in the child support amount at most income levels, though it is not the same at all income levels. For example, in a family where both parents earn approximately $4,000 net of taxes per month, the increase due to the guideline revision may be approximately $30 per month.

It is important to remember that Pennsylvania Courts do not automatically adjust child support Orders to reflect this change when the guidelines are updated. Instead, a parent must file a petition to modify support to obtain a new Order. Though the petitioner (the person seeking a new support Order) must demonstrate that a change in circumstances has occurred that warrants a modification, a change in the guidelines qualifies as such a change if it results in a material change in child support.

Speaking with your attorney before filing a petition to modify is essential. While the revision may entitle you to a slight increase in support, it is crucial to remember that this change in the law is not considered in a vacuum. Once a petition to modify is filed, the court can consider changes to the each parent’s income, healthcare costs, extracurricular activities, childcare costs and/or any other circumstances of the family. It is possible that changes in these variables may offset any increase you might other see due to the guidelines revision. Furthermore, the cost of potentially litigating a child support modification case may outweigh the increase to which you might be entitled.

Discuss the new guidelines revision with an attorney to address the pros and cons of a  possible support modification in your specific circumstances. Having a full understanding of the possible outcomes of your case can help you make the best decision for your family.

Preparing for Your Family Law Matter

Preparing for Your Family Law Matter

By Inna G. Materese | Esquire

We know that initiating a family law matter is generally a last resort for our clients. The process is often stressful, emotionally wrought, and can be costly. However, when the last resort becomes the only option, preparing in advance can be helpful. Being prepared can make an otherwise seemingly-daunting process a little less so. Here are some things you can do to prepare for your family law matter:

  1. Create your own "case file." Mastering the nuances of your own circumstances is a crucial first step in preparing for a family law matter. Create a chronology of events and/or a list of important facts. Create a record of important family circumstances and/or points to discuss with your attorneys. You are a wealth of information about financial, logistical, and historical aspects of your family. Maintaining a list of important points, conversations, schedules, locations, transactions, events, and/or other information will help you remain organized and will ensure that your attorney is aware of the complete picture.
  2. Gather your paperwork. Our clients are often unaware of many aspects of their financials and/or familial circumstances. When this is the case, family law litigation (whether divorce, custody or support) and the rigors of providing "evidence" to the court are often overwhelming and difficult. Thinking (and preparing!) ahead can help keep the process manageable. If you are preparing for a divorce matter, make sure to gather a copy of current bank, retirement, credit card, and/or mortgage statements. Gathering documentation regarding the property owned by you or your spouse is crucial to any divorce matter. If you are preparing for a support matter, gather complete copies of your tax returns, W-2s and 1099s, pay stubs, and/or employment benefits. If your believe you will be a litigant in a child support matter, make a list of the activities in which your child participates and gather documents (such as invoices, receipts, payment confirmation, etc.) evidencing the cost of those activities. In custody matters, preparing information about your child can be crucial. If you have specific concerns about your child or your child requires extra considerations (such as in the case of special needs children, kids with health needs, and/or educational and therapeutic needs), collect as much information as you can about the issue. Past and current report cards and school records can also be helpful in custody matters. 
  3. Understand your financial situation. Once you gather all the necessary paperwork, it is helpful to get a sense of your assets versus your debts. It is important to understand the nature of your finances and keep looming expenses in mind. Understand when bills are due, whether deadlines for any important decisions are coming up, and/or whether financial changes are on the horizon. Understanding your finances can assist you in deciding when and how to initiate your family law matter.
  4. Figure out your living expenses....now and after the start of a case. One of the most important planning tools for our clients is a monthly budget. Understanding the carrying costs of your life under your current circumstance, as well as how they might change when you initiate a family law matter, is essential. For example, your attorney may ask you whether you can afford to stay in the family home or whether you can afford to move out. The fear of being unable to maintain living expenses can be one of the most distressing aspects of litigation. It is therefore important to consider how income is currently being used and what changes can/should be made if the need arises. 
  5. Don't make any sudden moves. If you believe litigation is on the horizon, making big purchases and/or changes can have a negative impact on your future case. Preserving the status quo will give you an opportunity to discuss any possible changes with your attorney to determine the viability and advisability of the decision. For example, avoid purchasing a new car or new home if you are contemplating a divorce. If you believe a support matter is in your future, discuss any possible changes in your employment and/or income with an attorney before committing to the change. In custody matters, changing your child's residence, school, medical providers, etc. can be detrimental to your future case. In short, check in with your lawyer before making a big decision. 

How NOT Paying Your Child Support Obligation Can Cost You

How NOT Paying Your Child Support Obligation Can Cost You

By Inna G. Materese | Esquire

According to Jefferson Parish, Louisiana court records, Former Saints and Chargers receiver Robert Meachem will serve 30 days in jail after failing to pay almost $400,000 in alimony and child support to his ex-wife, Andrea Rhodes. The former NFL player may only be released once at least $100,000 of the owed amount is paid. 

Meachem's predicament is not unusual. When a parent fails to pay his or her child support obligation, state and federal enforcement mechanism can set in quite quickly. It is important for payor parents to understand the consequences of missing and/or failing to make timely support payments. Enforcement mechanisms can include:

  • automatic deduction of child support from the parent's paycheck
  • withholding of the child support directly from the  parent's unemployment payments, Worker’s Compensation funds, Social Security benefits or Veteran’s Disability benefits
  • garnishment of wages and income
  • attachment of a lien against real property, such as a home
  • seizure of bank accounts
  • seizure of a personal injury settlement
  • restriction or revocation of an occupational or professional license
  • restriction or revocation of a driver’s license and passport
  • restriction or revocation ofa recreational licenses, such as a fishing license
  • interception of federal or state tax refunds
  • interception of lottery winnings
  • reporting of the child support debt to credit reporting agencies, resulting in a negative credit report.
  • Jail time. 

Ultimately, failing to make payments may cost you more than just the amount of your monthly obligation.