Why is there so much misinformation out there about child support? Mostly because people hear a jumble of different stories that are only partially true or lack important facts. Your friend isn’t going to tell you the parts of their story that don’t reflect well on them. You’ll always get less than the entire story. There is no one rule: every support case is different. We’re here to expose common Pennsylvania child support myths and the proven reality.
1. Child support can only be used for expenses directly related to the child.
Contrary to popular belief, child support payments can be used for any expense related to the child, even if those expenses also benefit the custodial parent. It is a widely held misconception that child support payments can only be used for covering a child’s bare necessities, such as housing and food.
2. The parent receiving child support must prove they are spending the money only on the child.
Except for rare instances, the courts do not require the custodial parent to prove how the payments are spent. The courts see monitoring the spending of child support payments as an invasion of privacy and too time-consuming. Since the custodial parent has taken on the task of attending to the day-to-day needs of the child, it is assumed that the money is being spent responsibly. This may not be the case if the child’s basic needs are being neglected.
3. A father cannot be ordered to pay child support unless his name is on the birth certificate.
The biological father has a duty of child support. Whether that person’s name is on the birth certificate is not determinative of parenthood. Amending the birth certificate is a matter totally separate from child support.
4. If my child's other parent does not pay child support, I do not have to let him or her see our child,
Under Pennsylvania law, the duty to pay child support and the right to maintain contact with one's child are NOT linked. This means that even if you are not seeing your child, you still must pay child support and that a parent can see his or her child even if he/she fails to make child support payments.
5. Child support orders may not be changed.
Family law courts in Pennsylvania know that life can change unexpectedly for adults. As such, parents can seek a support order modification under certain significant circumstances. For example, if the paying parent loses a job, the court may temporarily lower their support payments. If the income of either parent changes significantly, the order can be increased or decreased accordingly.
6. Child support covers a child’s every need.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Often, the supporting parent may not earn enough to cover every single need a child may have. However, since both parents must support their children, the custodial parent also contributes to the care of each child. For example, the custodial parent may have to cover the costs of extracurricular activities.
7. Parents can set the amount of child support.
Family courts take an active role in determining the noncustodial parent’s support obligations. They take many factors into account when arriving at a monthly figure, including each parent’s income, expenses, and other financial matters. Unless they offer to pay more than the court has ordered, parents cannot override a court’s support decision.
8. Joint custody means no one pays child support.
In Pennsylvania, there are two types of custody: legal and physical. Typically, divorced parents share parenting time and have “joint legal custody.”
Legal custody is the right to make decisions about the child or children’s residence, religion, recreation, education or daycare, and non-emergency medical treatment.
Physical custody is also called “timesharing” or “periods of responsibility “is the actual time that the child or children spend time with each parent. The primary custodial parent usually spends more time with the child or children.
Child support is based on two things: the parents’ combined income and the amount of time spent with each parent. This is why in Pennsylvania one parent will owe child support to the other parent even if they have joint custody.
Only in cases where both parents earn the same amount and pay the same amount (for things like insurance, daycare, school, etc.) and have the child or children for the same number of days each week or month will there be no child support paid.
Separating fact from fiction in a child support case can be difficult. We encourage you to consult with one of Fiffik Law Group’s experienced child support lawyers to discuss all your options if you have an issue paying or receiving child support. We have more than 40 years of experience guiding parents through family court and helping them establish and modify child support orders.