PCADV Works to Make Child Support Safe and Available
About PA Child Support Law
Pennsylvania law requires both parents to financially support their children. Parents generally must support their children until a child turns 18 years old or graduates from high school, whichever occurs last. Support includes payments of money and may also include providing health insurance and reimbursement for medical expenses. Sometimes, it includes paying a contribution for day care expenses. Pennsylvania's official child support website can provide more information.
Safety Considerations for Domestic Violence Victims
A parent who is the victim of domestic violence should talk to a domestic violence advocate to discuss how filing for support may affect her/his safety. A parent is not required to file for support. However, there is a federal law requiring people who apply for welfare cash assistance and other benefits to cooperate with child support enforcement agencies. Domestic violence victims may be afraid to file for support because the abuser will get angry or the victim's and family's safety depends on the abuser not knowing their address. Domestic violence victims may qualify for the good cause waiver of cooperation. If so, they can receive cash and other benefits but not be forced to cooperate with child support collection efforts.
Where to File For Child Support
A person who wants to receive child support may file papers called a Support Complaint with the county domestic relations section (DRS) (also known as the domestic relations office). Local domestic relations office can be found online or by calling 1-877-727-7238. If the child lives with someone else, such as a grandparent, an adult brother or sister, or a foster parent through a Children and Youth Services action, that person or agency can file for support against both parents. A support complaint can be filed with the DRS in one of three places:
- The county where the parent who should pay support lives or works,
- The county where the parent who wants support lives (if that county is the last place where the parents lived while they were married) or
- The county where the child lives.
Temporary Child Support through Protection From Abuse Orders
Child support can be ordered in a Protection From Abuse (PFA) Order. However, if a person wants child support through a PFA to continue, that person must file a Support Complaint with the DRS within two weeks of the date when the PFA was issued. If a support complaint is not filed, the support ordered in the PFA ends. (Note: the other PFA provisions remain in place). The county DRS will enforce the PFA support if the support complaint is filed during the two-week period.
Determining paternity means finding out who the child's father is. If the child's parents are not married, the man may request a DNA test (also called a paternity test) to find out if he is the father. The man may also sign a paper, called an acknowledgement of paternity, stating that he is the father. Acknowledgement of paternity forms are provided by the hospital after the child is born, or can be obtained online from the County Assistance Office, the County Domestic Relations Section, or by contacting the Department of Public Welfare, Bureau of Child Support Enforcement, Paternity Coordinator at 1-800-932-0211, option number 4.
The amount a parent pays for child support is based on the Support Guidelines issued by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The DRS will determine the amount of support based on each parent's income. Income means wages, but can also include bonuses, rents, pensions, lottery winnings and many other things. It does not include Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or public assistance (TANF). Parents can agree to a specific amount of support. The calculated amount or the agreed amount will be written up by domestic relations office. Then the paper with the amount of support is sent to the support judge. The Judge signs the order, and that makes it a court order. That means that the DRS can make the person pay the support amount. See the Enforcement Section, below.
Sometimes the support order may not follow the guideline amount. This may happen if one or both parents have a low income. It can also happen if the parents have other children from a different relationship to support or if one parent has other unusual expenses to pay every month.
Sometimes a parent may quit a job to avoid paying support. Quitting a job does not excuse a person from having to pay support. In this situation, the DRS will look at what the person earned when he or she did work. This is called the earning capacity. The DRS will use the earning capacity to calculate the support the person should pay.
For questions about the amount of support a person should receive or owe, call the Pennsylvania Child Support Program at 1-877-727-SCDU (7238).
If either parent believes that DRS made a mistake in calculating the amount of support, he or she can ask for a hearing to recalculate the amount of support. In some counties, an attorney who acts as a hearing officer hears the appeal. In other counties, a judge hears the appeal.
The DRS and the Court of Common Pleas will enforce support obligations. Even a parent who moves to another state must continue to pay the support obligation. Failure to pay may result in a prison stay of up to six months.
Support orders may be modified, or changed, for a good reason. Either party may request modification simply by filing for a modification with the DRS. The support order will be recalculated based on the new information. The parent receiving support may decide to drop the support order, but she or he may refile at any time. A parent is not required to file for support. If the person who should pay support is in jail, he or she may ask the support judge if he or she can stop paying support. The judge will have a hearing to see if the parent does not have any way to pay the support owed. If not, the judge may order that the person in jail does not have to pay. If that person gets out of jail, support can be filed again.
PCADV Works to Make Child Support Safe and Available
- PCADV's member programs work in every county to provide domestic violence victims and families with emergency shelter, housing options and other services to help victims obtain safety and justice.
- PCADV's legal department attorneys provide technical assistance to advocates and attorneys helping domestic violence victims dealing with child support legal issues.
- PCADV offers training to organizations, agencies and professionals working with domestic violence victims.
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If you fear for your immediate safety, call 9-1-1 or your local police.
Contact the domestic violence program in your area for free and confidential help.
Other victim programs are available to help you and your family.
Any attorney helping a domestic violence victim may contact the PCADV legal department at 888-235-3425 for information on law and legal procedures. (This is not a helpline for victims.)
The information provided on this website is intended for informational purposes only. The information provided under this topic is not legal advice, does not create an attorney-client relationship, and is not a substitute for contacting an experienced attorney. Read our full legal disclaimer.